Viktoria Tolstoy’s voice has an intriguing, bittersweet, melting quality. And there’s her unique way of lingering tantalizingly between drama and melodrama. And there’s the way she simultaneously reveals both her Swedish heart and her Russian soul. But there’s something more: it’s her vivid way of scene-setting, the pictorial clarity she brings when she sings. Perhaps it is not that surprising: “I’ve been a massive film fan all my life,” she admits. “With the children around these days, I don’t get to the movies quite so often. So I really enjoy it when I can get to watch films on Netflix or HBO in a hotel on tour.”
And so, three years on from recording “A Moment Of Now”, which placed the singer in the intimate setting of a duo with pianist Jacob Karlzon, she now directs her attention to music from films. “Meet Me At The Movies” is an emotional journey through the history of film and of film music. The singer's route takes her from Herman Hupfeld's “As Time Goes By” from the Michael Curtiz film “Casablanca” through to Björk's “New World” from Lars von Trier's “Dancer In The Dark.” It goes from “Smile” from Charlie Chaplin's “Modern Times” to Seal's “Kiss From A Rose“ from “Batman Forever”. And it also takes in Michael & Lesley Gore's “Out Here On My Own” from “Fame” and Sarah McLachlan's “Angel” from “City of Angels” starring Nicolas Cage.
Tolstoy's original plans for this album included an orchestra. “I just love the big score”, she says. “All the strings, that music which brings the tears welling up. In Hollywood they are so brilliant at dropping in exactly the right sounds to grab the emotions, it's all worked out to the last fraction of a second, and it’s impossible to resist.” But in the end she chose the exact opposite for her core band for this project. She went for the fleet-footed sensitivity of a guitar trio, with bassist Mattias Svensson, drummer Rasmus Kihlberg, and Krister Jonsson playing guitars.
All three of these musicians have several years' experience of working with Tolstoy, so they are played-in, attuned to her artistry, and the mutual trust level is high.
The same goes for the producer of the album, that most successful of all jazz exports from Sweden, Nils Landgren. As is only natural, Landgren also features as trombonist on two tracks, and sings with Tolstoy in a duet on “Love Song For A Vampire”. At the suggestion of executive producer Siggi Loch, another guest stepped into the fray as well. Pianist Iiro Rantala is a musician who has given endless proof over time of his quite astonishing ability to transform well-known material in a way that is out of the ordinary and completely personal. His album of John Lennon songs were a huge critical and popular success and carried away several awards. On this album he gives his very individual and refined takes on seven songs from the movies. The way Tolstoy has expressed her thanks to the pianist is telling: “Quite a few times Iiro brought back Esbjörn [Svensson] to mind. I am just so happy with what has emerged from our work together.”
“Meet Me At The Movies” says Tolstoy, “is definitely one of those cases where less is more. I was far freer to interpret these well-known songs with this group than I would have been working with an orchestra. This band made it possible for me to have my own sound,” she says. What she means by this can be heard on “As Time Goes By.” The song has been covered literally thousands of times, but here it has clean Scandinavian lines, and Tolstoy’s voice gives it a fragility that can never have been heard before. Most of the transformations were, like this one, developed during the sessions in the studio. “For some of the songs I already had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to do in my head,” Tolstoy explains. For example I wanted “Calling You” from “Bagdad Café” to be completely exposed, with just bass at the beginning.”
This is a selection of songs from films born of a passion. “I know every one of the films that these songs come from,” says Tolstoy. “And just about all of them are among my favourite films. Both “Bagdad Café ” and “Dancer In The Dark” are at the top of my list - in each case I have a special connection to the music.” That closeness can be heard. She gives each song a personal resonance and its own character. When Viktoria Tolstoy invites you to meet her at the movies, the emotions will run high…. and it will be a pleasure and a privilege to accept.