by Ian Mann
April 20, 2023
Quiet and intimate and possessed of considerable emotional depth this is an album that succeeds in its stated aims and which has the potential to reach out to a wide listenership.
Siril Malmedal Hauge & Kjetil Mulelid
“Blues and Bells”
Grappa Muzikforlag GRCD4757)
Siril Malmedal Hauge – vocals, Kjetil Mulelid – piano
with guests Hidegunn Oiseth – goat horn, Henriette Eilertsen - flute
“Blues and Bells” is the début album from the Norwegian duo of vocalist Siril Malmedal Hauge and pianist Kjetil Mulelid.
The pair studied together at the renowned NTNU Jazz Academy in Trondheim and subsequently worked together as members of the group Fieldfare.
Of the two Mulelid is the one best known to me. He first came to my attention in 2013 as part of the Nordic trio Lauv (the group name is the Norwegian for “Leaf”), who released the highly promising EP “De Som Er Eldre Enn Voksne” in that year, the title translating as “Those Who Are Older Than Adults”. My review of the EP can be read here.
The following year I enjoyed seeing Mulelid perform live at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he was one of the star soloists at the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event, which sees students from the Jazz courses at the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires combining to make music together and presenting the results to the jazz going public. Mulelid was one of the outstanding performers at that event and I justifiably tipped him as a musician to look out for in the years ahead. It’s particularly pleasing to see him fulfilling that promise.
Now in his early thirties Mulelid is a typical jazz musician of today, involved in a variety of genre defying projects embracing a broad range of musical influences. Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio, forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the aforementioned Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring Hauge, drummer Andreas Skar Winther and former Lauv bassist Bardur Reinert Poulsen.
Mulelid’s trio with Winther at the drums and Bjorn Marius Hegge on double bass has released a series of acclaimed albums on the Rune Grammofon label commencing with “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House” (2018), followed by “What You Thought Was Home” (2019) and “Who Do You Love The Most” (2022). All have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann as has Mulelid’s exceptionally beautiful solo piano disc, simply titled “Piano” (also Rune Grammofon), which was largely written during lockdown and released in 2021. Also reviewed elsewhere on this site is a solo piano livestream performed by Mulelid in 2021 for the Reworks Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Mulelid and Poulsen are also members of the instrumental quartet Wako, a group that also includes saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen (who appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event in 2012) and drummer Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Initially Wako appeared to be primarily Olsen’s project and in the beginning he wrote all the material for the group. However Wako’s recent repertoire has also begun to include Mulelid’s compositions. The group has also collaborated with classical players from the ranks of the Oslo Strings.
Mulelid also collaborates with Olsen as part of the saxophonist’s MMO Ensemble, a jazz/classical quartet that also features Hauge and cellist Kaja Fjellberg Pettersen and which is inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Mulelid, Olsen and Hauge have also been part of the Norwegian sextet Wild Things Run Fast, a tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell.
Besides her numerous previous collaborations with Mulelid singer and songwriter Hauge has released two solo albums, “Uncharted Territory” (2019) and “Slowly, Slowly” (2021), the latter winning a Norwegian Grammy Award. She has also issued two duo recordings with the guitarist Jacob Young, “Last Things” (2018) and “Chasing Sunsets” (2020).
Hauge is also a multi-instrumentalist, playing flute and mandolin and she collaborates with her fellow musician / vocalist /composer Marte Royeng as the duo Malm & Eng.
She has also collaborated with pianist / organist Alf Hulbækmo as the duo Siril & Alf, releasing the album “Jeg Går og Drømmer” in 2016, an album inspired by the work of the Norwegian poet Nils Yttri (1947-1980).
Other projects with which Hauge is involved are the improvising vocal ensemble Trondheim Voices, the trio Vidunderlig, led by guitarist, vocalist and lyricist Jørn Simen Øverli, and the septet BenReddik. For full details of her current and former projects please visit her website at
“Blues and Bells” features an intriguing mix of original songs written by the members of the duo, jazz standards and pop and rock covers. The pared down duo format emphasises the beauty of Hauge’s voice, with Mulelid proving to be a highly sensitive accompanist. Given their previous collaborations with Fieldfare, MMO Ensemble and Wild Things Run Fast it’s perhaps not so surprising that they have developed such a high level of rapport.
The album liner notes mention the duo’s mix of influences, including jazz, pop and folk. They first performed as a duo at the Trondheim Academy in 2013 but have rarely worked in the same format since, despite sharing a stage together in a variety of different bands. On occasion they would perform duo pieces within the framework of these groups, helping to sow the seeds for this début album.
The liner notes speak of the content of the new album thus;
“They present a wide range of contradictions. Songs about lost and found love, loss, and the strength of hope, as well as more abstract pieces. Subjects that most people recognise and which are close to most people’s lives. It is these contradictions and doublets in our everyday lives that we find interesting to dig into. The blues is often dark and heavy and bells can be light and full of hope”.
Hauge and Mulelid also express the hope that the album can reach out to a wider demographic than just the usual jazz audience.
The album commences with Hauge’s original song “When Wind Fades”, singing her own lyrics in English. Other projects, such as Siril & Alf, have featured Norwegian lyrics. Hauge’s singing and lyrics on “When Wind Fades” suggest the influence of Joni Mitchell and the song can be seen as the logical extension of the Wild Things Run Fast project. The song is largely a vehicle for Hauge’s voice and lyrics with Mulelid’s piano acting as the perfect foil.
Hauge also sings in English on “Never Let Me Go”, written by composer Jay Livingston and lyricist Ray Evans. It’s a sensitive interpretation, sung and played with a quiet intensity, with Mulelid allowed more space to express himself instrumentally.
Mulelid’s arrangement of “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin features a guest appearance by Hildegunn Oiseth on goat horn, who produces some remarkable sounds during the course of the performance. Nevertheless the addition of such an exotic instrument does not impinge upon the air of intimacy that distinguishes this recording. Hauge delivers the lyric in English, her voice sounding both bruised and wistful, as Mulelid provides empathic piano accompaniment.
Co-written by Mulelid (music) and Hauge (words), the original song “For You I’ll Do Anything” features English lyrics that take the listener to exotic climes, the protagonist’s travels representing a gesture of love. Hauge is an extremely accomplished English lyricist and her words are both poetic and evocative.
Mulelid’s delightful arrangement of Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” evokes an atmosphere of warm English pastoralism and features the airy flute of Henriette Eilertsen, joined by Hauge’s soaring vocals. Their aerial duet is underpinned by Mulelid’s rich pianism.
The core duo deliver a warm and wistful interpretation of “Emily”, co-written by composer Johnny Mandel and lyricist Johnny Mercer. A central section featuring a dialogue between piano and wordless vocals adds a welcome element of spikiness and helps to allay any allegations of tweeness.
Mulelid’s arrangement of Oscar Levant’s much covered “Blame It on My Youth” features Hauge’s singing of Edward Heyman’s lyrics. I’m used to hearing this tune performed as an instrumental, so it makes a refreshing change to hear the words.
The same thing applies to the following “Body and Soul”, jointly arranged by the duo, which also features a Heyman lyric, but with the music in this instance written by Johnny Green. It’s another song normally performed as an instrumental, most famously by saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.
Together Hauge and Mulelid reclaim these two pieces as songs, with the assistance of Oiseth who adds a splash of trumpet colouration to the closing stages of “Body and Soul”
From two jazz classics to a song from a more unlikely source, a Hauge / Mulelid arrangement of the song “Cherry-Coloured Funk”, originally written and performed by the band Cocteau Twins. I can’t claim to be particularly familiar with the original, but this is a remarkable duo performance with Hauge mirroring Elizabeth Fraser’s vocal gymnastics while delivering a splendidly surreal and evocative lyric that includes the “blues and bells” line that gives the album its title. Similarly Mulelid is able to to fully exploit the sonic capabilities at the piano, exploring the extremes at both ends of the register.
The duo’s arrangement of “For All We Know” (music J. Fred Coots, lyrics Sam. M. Lewis) features another extraordinary vocal performance from Hauge, unaccompanied at first, before being joined by Mulelid’s softly lyrical piano. Taken overall it’s an impressive blend of technique and emotion.
The final piece is “Kanskje I Morgen”, co-written by the duo and the only song to feature Norwegian lyrics. Despite the change of language the song is totally in tune with the aesthetic of the album as a whole and the performance is intimate, lyrical and heartfelt.
Quiet and intimate and possessed of considerable emotional depth this is an album that succeeds in its stated aims and given the right exposure it does indeed have the potential to reach out to a wide listenership. Hauge’s cool, elegant vocals receive sympathetic support from Mulelid, who displays great sensitivity throughout. That said I’d have liked to have heard rather more from Mulelid, who allows himself very little solo space, but perhaps that particular type of virtuosity is best left for other projects. “Blues and Bells” is more in the gently lyrical spirit of the beguiling solo disc “Piano” than Mulelid’s more rumbustious trio recordings.
On a personal note it’s probably fair to say that I prefer Mulelid’s instrumental recordings but this duo collaboration succeeds on its own terms and its intimacy and beauty will appeal to many listeners. One would also imagine that any live performances by the duo would be thoroughly compelling affairs.
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