Sidsel Endresen: A Voice on its Own

"I have a lot of role models and they all sing with feeling that affects you. That is what I am trying to do". Sidsel Endresen (47) has affected many people’s feelings since she made that statement in the early ’80s.

Sidsel Endresen

At that point she was still a well-kept Norwegian secret. Since then, tours and international CD releases have made critics and audiences all over Europe aware of this Norwegian, who sings and writes lyrics in perfect English.

At the moment she is particularly renowned for her improvisational vocal cooperation with multi-instrumentalist Bugge Wesseltoft. The duo will be touring Germany this autumn, partly with their own material and partly with a choice selection of other people’s songs which they have made their own. New audiences will doubtlessly be entranced by her misty-blue, expressive voice, whether it is presenting Endresen’s self-created, sound-painting “language” or distinctly articulating her illustrative, associative but still minimalist lyrics. A concert with Sidsel and Bugge is like none other. It is one of those events that immediately fills all available spaces in the listener and becomes its own point of reference.

In 1978, Sidsel Endresen had lived in England for two periods of four years (one as a child and one as an adult) and read English and anthropology at the University of Oslo. She had tried several professions, from waitressing to translating light novels, and had no plans for a professional singing career until guitarist Asbjørn Brændeland persuaded her to start a band. The Sidsel Endresen Band made its début at the Oslo Blues Club, Sidsel caught the attention of Oslo’s music circles, and she soon became one of the co-founders of the Chipahua band.

In 1980, singer Radka Toneff, one of the greatest talents modern Norwegian music has ever produced, invited Sidsel Endresen to a summer course run by the Norwegian Jazz Federation. Radka Toneff’s instructor-colleague, guitarist Jon Eberson, was there too, and the Jon Eberson Group released its first record the following year. The album Jive Talking, which featured Eberson’s music and Endresen’s lyrics performed by themselves and three other musicians with a sense for jazz, r & b, soul and rock, sold more than 100,000 copies in Norway and established the band as one of the leading ensembles in Norway throughout most of the ’80s.

Apart from her dual role in the Jon Eberson Group, Endresen also made an impression in the all-girl quartet “Darling” and wrote and performed the lyrics for To All The Birds That Cannot Fly, a suite for large orchestra commissioned by Oslo’s legendary Club 7 in 1985. Her international CD début in her own name came in 1990 with So I Write (ECM), with Nils Petter Molvær, Django Bates and Jon Christensen, a group that on the follow-up disc Exile (ECM ’94) was augmented with Bugge Wesseltoft and David Darling. Exile, based on Pagan Pilgrimage, which Endresen was commissioned to write for the Molde International Jazz Festival in 1993, also illustrates, if modestly in terms of volume, the dawn of her role as a composer.

In the 1990s, Sidsel Endresen has also devoted time to the theatre, most recently with Turi Tarjem in Malice in Wonderland, which was first performed at this year’s Molde festival. She has been awarded several illustrious prizes, lived in New York for a time, among other things to study under Meredith Monk, and has released two CDs with Bugge Wesseltoft, Nightsong in ’94 and Duplex Ride in ’98, both on the Curling Legs label in Norway and on the German ACT label in the rest of Europe. With singer-colleagues Eldbjørg Raknes and Elin Rosseland in the ese trio, she recently released the a capella CD Gack! (Kemistri ’99) and a new solo CD is expected on Universal/Polygram in spring 2000.

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.7 - 1999 No. 3
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