The many sounds of Trygve Seim


Melinda Bargreen
Everett, Wash.

Norway has emerged in recent years as a hotbed of musical creativity, cross-threading all kinds of classical, jazz, and folk elements into completely new forms. One artist is a particularly good example of these new directions in both composition and performance: Trygve Seim, a prolific Norwegian saxophonist and composer/arranger. Not only is Seim the composer and central performer of his new CD for the ECM label, Rumi Songs (based on the mystical poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, 1207-1273), but he also appears this fall as a sideman on albums from Frode Haltli, Iro Haarla, and Sinikka Langeland.

Together with the pure-voiced singer Tora Augestad, inventive accordionist Frode Haltli, and mercurial cellist Svante Henryson, Seim sets the Rumi texts with surprising variety of form and instrumentation. On “Leaving My Self,” a mesmeric drone features Augestad’s clear, floating vocal line moving in octaves with cello, in forms that suggest the idioms of India.

“Like Every Other Day” pairs Augestad’s airy vocal with ruminative, cool-jazz based backgrounds and intriguing modulations. The deliberately breathy sax lines sometimes skate over the line between music and soft air. “Seeing Double” takes an entirely unexpected turn into the rhythms of tango.

Other songs, such as “Drunk and the Madman,” present a more traditional jazz format, with subtle vocal and accordion making room for the cello’s entrance bringing an alternative line for singer. The ensemble flows as the various instruments smoothly emerge with solos, then draw back in support. Haltli’s accordion accompaniment represents his own improvisations.

Seim used the contemporary, idiomatic translations of the Rumi texts (which were written in Farsi) by Coleman Barks, an American poet who spent seven years transforming the texts into what he called “the American free verse tradition of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams.”
Here are the three other new ECM discs of note that feature Trygve Seim as a performer in ensembles, including some with his collaborators here: Accordionist Haltli’s Air, with the Arditti Quartet and the Trondheim Soloists, performing chamber music by Danish composers Bent Sørensen (b. 1958) and Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1952). Ante Lucem, a major work for jazz quintet and symphony orchestra by Finnish pianist/harpist/composer Iro Haarla, including Seim as an ensemble member along with the Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester (Jukka Iisakkila, conductor). Singer/instrumentalist Sinikka Langeland’s The Magical Forest, performing new, experimental, and traditional-based ensemble music that also features the Trio Mediaeval.

Melinda Bargreen is a Seattle-based writer and composer whose career at The Seattle Times began in 1977. Her choral works include the “Norwegian Folksong Suite.” Melinda contributes to many publications and is the author of Seattle Opera’s forthcoming 50-year history book. She holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the UW, and a doctorate in English from the University of California, Irvine.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 7, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.


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