Trygve Seim: of peace and harmony

If there’s any singular description of Seim’s music, it’s that of peace and harmony.
– John Kelman, All About Jazz

I’ve been listening to the beautiful new album from Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim, Purcor: Songs for Saxophone and Piano, comprising a series of duets with pianist Andreas Utnem.  Purcor was recorded in an Oslo church, emphasising the deeply spiritual feel of the music of very plain, Satie-like original pieces, traditional folk tunes and hymn-like improvisations.  The album reminds me of another wonderful piano-saxophone collaboration: that of Joanna MacGregor and Andy Sheppard on Deep River.

Trygve Seim (that’s pronounced Treeg-vah say-muh – those 5 consonants in succession can flummox an English larynx) has slowly crept into my awareness in the last few years. Born in the 1970s, Seim had an older brother who played in punk bands and his early musical tastes, apart from punk, included Bob Marley (there’s a unique version of ‘Redemption Song’, performed with accordionist Frode Haltli on their 2008 album Yeraz).

But at the age of 14 Seim heard Jan Garbarek’s Eventyr, and, in Seim’s words:

That kind of made my decision to play saxophone. It was just a coincidence really, that my step-father played me Eventyr; we were on a trip in the mountains when I first heard it. It was not so much an intellectual thing; the melodies on the album just touched my heart directly. Anyway, my father had a saxophone that he wasn’t using, so he said I could have it and that was the beginning.

Seim went on to study at Trondheim Music Conservatory, before forming the Trondheim Kunst Orchestra, which included trumpeter Arve Henriksen.  At the same time, with Henriksen, he was involved in a collaborative quartet called The Source which led to the 2002 ECM album The Source and Different Cikadas. The group was an odd combination of two drummers, two bassists, tuba, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and guitar.

In 2004 ECM released Seim’s second album on the label as leader: Sangam. ‘Destined to be one of ECM’s classics’,  John Fordham predicted in the Guardian. ‘ At times Trygve Seim sounds like no sax player you’ve ever heard – more like wind in the trees, or wooden flutes… ‘.  In Sanskrit the title means ‘the meeting point of three rivers’ and this perhaps reflects the three primary voices on Sangam —Seim, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and clarinetist Havard Lund.  It was this album that provoked John Kelman, in his review for All About Jazz to comment that, ‘if there’s any singular description of Seim’s music, it’s that of peace and harmony’.  The centrepiece of the recording is the four part suite,  ‘Himmelrand i Tidevand’ (‘The Edge of the Sky and Tides’) which adds two trombones and a string ensemble to the mix.  To me this sounds like an indefatigable northern brass band on a journey, pausing every now and then to take stock of the landscape and the state of the world, sometimes in a mood of melancholy, at other times filled with joy.

An even more unusual combination followed on the 2008 album Yeraz.  With Trygve Seim was accordionist Frode Haltli; they had been collaborating for some time, and the accordianist had appeared on Sangam.  Seim composed most of the material – with the exception of two pieces by G.I. Gurdjieff, and that Bob Marley tune. The album opened and closed with two free improvisations, ‘Praeludum’ and ‘Postludum’, reminiscent of  Jan Garbarek’s classic Dis.  All About Jazz concluded: ‘The disc has an overriding arc, gradually moving from brooding introspection to quietly joyous optimism’.

In 2007, Seim contributed to Starflowers, the extraordinarily beautiful and haunting album by the Norwegian/Finnish singer Sinikka Langeland.   All the lyrics sung by Sinikka Langeland on the album were by the Norwegian poet Hans Børli,who lived as a woodcutter, writing poetry alive with his experiences of the Norwegian forests.

And so to Purcor, on which Trygve Seim is paired with pianist Andreas Utnem.  Although this is the first time the two musicians have recorded together, their partnership extends back to the 1990s when Utnem, working with Norway’s Church City Mission foundation, invited Seim to perform with him at several church services. ‘Andreas’s background is quite different from my own’, Seim has said, ‘but there is something about his composing that brings out a ‘focusing’ quality in my playing. Over time we’ve arrived at a special simplicity and clarity in the music which pleases me very much’.

The album may be loosely inspired by elements from the Catholic mass, with songs like Seim’s ‘Responsorium’, Utnem’s ‘Credo’, and the sprightly ‘Gloria, Improvisation’. Elsewhere, they explore several folk tunes including the Norwegian song ‘Solrenning’ on which Utnem plays the harmonium. There is a reworking of Seim’s breathlike ‘Bhavana’, first heard on his 2001 ECM debut Different Rivers. The album opens  with the melodic and catchy ‘Kyrie’, with Seim’s breathy and keening gospel-like saxophone blends beautifully with Utnem’s jaunty piano.

This album may be the best of a superb crop of ECM albums in 2010.  Is there any other jazz record label that can guarantee such quality and inventiveness, year after year? The best of 2010, for me, have been: Anat Fort (And If), Charles Lloyd (Mirror), Ketil Bjornstad (Remembrance), Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (Officium Novum), Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden (Jasmine), Food (Quiet Inlet), Stephan Micus (Bold As Light) and Manu Katché (Third Round).

3 thoughts on “Trygve Seim: of peace and harmony

      1. Funny you mention Sangam as I am just now waiting for it to be delivered from Amazon.

        I am not sure if you have heard the self titled album from The Source from 2006 but I also highly recommend that if you like Trygve and the gang’s more improvisational (but still infused with beauty) work.

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