Helsinki Songs

Helsinki Songs

by Trygve SeimTrygve Seim


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While Norwegian saxophonist and composer Trygve Seim utilized a quartet for 2016's brilliant Rumi Songs, its lineup was unusual, comprising his horn, a vocalist, an accordionist, and a cellist. Helsinki Songs, his eighth date as a leader for ECM, was so titled because its tunes were composed in a rented apartment in the Finnish capital. This marks his first return to the conventional jazz quartet in two decades. Seim possesses an unmistakable warm, rich, slightly reedy tone, and after Jan Garbarek (his earliest inspiration) is the most recognizable saxophonist in Norway. A devotee of melodic improvisation, he enlisted an international cast for this outing: Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen, and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. The international flavor is underscored by Seim's experience in Cairo studying Arabic music, and further explorations of music from Eastern Europe's folk traditions. As a whole, Helsinki Songs reflects some of Seim's many musical obsessions, which have been fully integrated into his aesthetic persona. Opener "Sol's Song," introduced by Randalu's tender lullaby-esque intro, is richly accessible to jazz fans of all stripes, and could be a single. Short solos by Eilertsen, Randalu, and the saxophonist make it a standout. The lithe, dancelike playing of Ounaskari introduces grooves and feints throughout. The songs "New Beginning" and "Sorrow March" make use of whole-tone drones to reflect the deep influence of Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan. Ethereal and spacious, "Sorrow March" is filled in by Randalu's modal chord voicings and right-hand chromatics, Ounaskari's skittering brushed cymbals, and Eilertsen's sparse, woody frame to underscore Seim's emotive and mournful soloing. He uses his soprano to introduce "Randalusian Folk Song," an elegant yet involved piece that crisscrosses post-bop, modal jazz, and Estonian folk traditions, driven by beautiful drum attacks and a depth of groove shared by the entire rhythm section, while Randalu's own solo is derived in a straight line from Bill Evans' mature improvisational style. "Morning Song" is dedicated to American songwriter Jimmy Webb. Though Seim first heard the song in an iconic Norwegian version by singer Radka Toneff -- he thought she penned it -- after hearing Webb's original, he composed a new coda in tribute. As lovely a ballad as he's committed to tape, Seim's smoky, rich tenor evokes ghost traces of Ben Webster. The haunting "Katya's Dream" was inspired by the film Coco and Igor, about Stravinsky's years in Paris, and is titled for his long-suffering first wife. Its lyric reveals the folkloric influence of Norway's aboriginal Sami people. Randalu layers a mysterious classical motif on top as Eilertsen plays in concert with Seim and Ounaskari's rumbling tom-toms add weight. The brief closer, "Yes Please Both," musically references Ornette Coleman's early pianoless recordings. Introduced by a deft interaction between bass and drums only, its harmony pushes outside when Seim enters but he and Randalu rein it in; it concludes as suddenly as it began. The international flavors on Helsinki Songs, filled with rich melodic engagement and painterly textures, make this a standout in Seim's catalog.

Product Details

Release Date: 08/31/2018
Label: Ecm Records
UPC: 0602567515807
catalogNumber: 002846702
Rank: 131337

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