Helsinki Songs

Trygve Seim

EN / DE
With its overt lyricism, strong themes and a sense of perpetual melodic invention, Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim’s new album quickly identifies itself as a classic-in-the-making. Themes of dedication run through Seim’s Helsinki Songs album, a set of tunes composed – for the most part – in the Finnish capital, and radiating tributes in many directions. Here are songs referencing Igor Stravinsky and Jimmy Webb, pieces dedicated to each of Seim’s gifted bandmates, and tunes that tip the hat, obliquely, to Ornette Coleman and Bill Evans. The quartet plays superbly throughout, with outstanding solos from leader Seim and pianist Kristjan Randalu. Helsinki Songs was recorded in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in January 2018 and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Mit seiner offenkundigen Lyrik, den markanten Themen und einer unerschöpflichen melodischen Fantasie könnte das neue Album des norwegischen Saxophonisten Trygve Seim zum Klassiker werden. Vom Thema Widmung durchzogen und größtenteils in der finnischen Hauptstadt komponiert, präsentiert Helsinki Songs Lieder, in denen das Quartett auf Igor Strawinsky und Jimmy Webb anspielt und vor Ornette Coleman und Bill Evans indirekt seine Hüte zieht. Andere Stücke sind je einem der vier Musiker zugedacht, deren prachtvolles Spiel um Soli von Trygve Seim und Pianist Kristjan Randalu bereichert wird. Helsinki Songs wurde im Januar 2018 in den Osloer Rainbow Studios aufgezeichnet und von Manfred Eicher produziert.
Featured Artists Recorded

January 2018, Rainbow Studio, Oslo

Original Release Date

31.08.2018

  • 1Sol's Song
    (Trygve Seim)
    06:03
  • 2Helsinki Song
    (Trygve Seim)
    07:54
  • 3New Beginning
    (Trygve Seim)
    07:03
  • 4Ciaccona per Embrik
    (Trygve Seim)
    06:00
  • 5Birthday Song (for Mats Eilertsen)
    (Trygve Seim)
    05:59
  • 6Sorrow March
    (Trygve Seim)
    07:52
  • 7Nocturne
    (Trygve Seim)
    04:48
  • 8Randalusian Folk Song
    (Trygve Seim)
    07:08
  • 9Katya's Dream
    (Trygve Seim)
    04:36
  • 10Morning Song (dedicated to Jimmy Webb)
    (Trygve Seim)
    03:42
  • 11Yes Please Both
    (Trygve Seim)
    02:40
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 […] The international flavors on ‘Helsinki Songs’, filled with rich melodic engagement and painterly textures, make this a standout in Seim's catalog.
Thom Jurek, All Music
 
Im Quartett lässt insbesondere der ECM-Neuzugang Randalu aufhorchen. Sein delikater Anschlag, seine sensibel hingetupften Tongirlanden runden sehr schön den melodischen Gestus von Seims Kompositionen ab.
Berthold Klostermann, Stereo
 
Stimulating in its quietness and hauntingly poignant in its textures, ‘Helsinki Songs’ favors slow-drag tempos and embraces a memorably dusky lyricism, exposing an attractive anti-climax nature. It’s an endearing work by Trygve Seim, who definitely deserves wider attention.
Filipe Freitas, Jazz Trail
 
Trygve Seims neues Album ist ein Juwel – und ein Höhepunkt in diesem hervorragenden Jahr für ECM. Wenn ich ‚Helsinki Songs‘ höre, das ausschließlich Balladen umfasst, erscheint mir Seim mit seinem rauchigen Ton fast wie ein europäischer Stan Getz. Er besitzt freilich einen Tonumfang, der ihm die Möglichkeit gibt, viel mehr Farben hinzuzufügen, mal wie ein bulgarisches Duduk, mal leidenschaftlich in oberen Lagen schreiend und singend (wenngleich er, vom letzten Stück abgesehen, seine wilderen Gedanken in dieser überwiegend verhaltenen Session zurückhält).
Brian Whistler, Nordische Musik
 
Like his older fellow countryman, Jan Garbarek, the Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim has a distinctive, instantly recognizable sound. Since making an immediate impact with his award-winning ECM debut as a bandleader, ‘Different Rivers’ in 2001, Seim has tended to shy away from the standard jazz quartet. He has found one to work with here, however, and in the Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu in particular he has introduced his followers to a special talent. […] The gently rocking ‘Helsinki Song’ and the plaintive ‘Sorrow March’, with their processional qualities, might have come from Seim’s glorious, larger scale Sangam project, and while the latter track initially lives up to its title, there’s a real uplift in its resolution. Seim cites influences and inspirations from Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel to Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Webb here but the net result is very much his own.
Rob Adams, The Herald
 
Es sind zum Niederknien schöne 63 Minuten und 49 Sekunden, die uns Trygve Seim mit seinen elf größtenteils in der finnischen Hauptstadt komponierten ‚Helsinki Songs‘ beschert. Seine von Zeit und Raum losgelösten Melodien schmeicheln sich in ihrer puren Schönheit – ohne jegliches Kalkül, unbedingt schön sein zu wollen – in die Gehörgänge. Es ist Erntezeit, die jahrelange Beschäftigung des Osloers mit der nordischen Tradition, mit ägyptischer, indischer und armenischer Musik und natürlich auch mit den unterschiedlichsten Phänomenen der Jazzgeschichte trägt nun ihre Früchte.
Peter Füssl, Kultur
 
Nothing here proceeds much above a slow stroll, and some of the pieces barely move at all, but there is a lyrical intensity about all of them, their inherent strength brought out by the singing quality of pianist Kristjan Randalu’s contributions. Bassist Eilertsen is sparse in his contributions, drummer Ounaskari barely troubled at times, although retaining the right to disturb the peace, but as a quartet they cohere perfectly. Another fine set from Trygve Seim.
Simon Adams, Jazz Journal
 
Tenor and soprano saxophonist Trygve Seim delivers one of the unexpected surprises of early autumn with a wonderfully melodic quartet album […] Above all else, it is the sheer melodicism of the music that is communicated by the musicians, and the rhythm section comprising pianist, Kristjan Randalu, double bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Markhu Ounaskari, deserve great credit for their empathetic support throughout.
Tim Stenhouse, UK Vibe
Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim’s eighth ECM album as a leader or co-leader, Helsinki Songs, reaches out to the listener, tugging the ear with its overt lyricism, ethereal atmosphere and air of sustained melodic invention, often with hints of the East. Seim wrote most of Helsinki Songs on sojourns in the Finnish capital, in an apartment with “a composer’s aura.” Back in Oslo, he brought the compositions to life at Rainbow Studio with his simpatico quartet featuring Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. Themes of dedication and tribute run throughout the new album, including pieces referencing Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Webb, as well as tunes dedicated to Seim’s children and bandmates.
 
It was with his ECM leader debut, Different Rivers, that Seim made an immediate impact on the jazz scene, with the disc winning the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik as Album of the Year in 2001. Since then, the saxophonist has been heard on more than 20 ECM releases, including Sangam with his large ensemble, on multiple albums with the collective The Source, in duos with accordionist Frode Halti and with pianist Andreas Utnem, and on recordings led by Manu Katché and Jacob Young. Recently, Seim has been heard as part of Eilertsen’s septet (Rubicon), with Iro Haarla and symphony orchestra (Ante Lucem) and with singer Sinikka Langeland and Trio Mediaeval (The Magical Forest). As a leader, Seim’s previous ECM release was Rumi Songs, the 2016 album featuring his settings of words by the titular Persian poet, the group including Haltli, cellist Svante Henryson and mezzo-soprano Tora Augestad. The Guardian praised that record as “playful, guileless, accessible,” singling out Seim’s playing for being full of “tonal and melodic surprises.”
 
A natural improviser, Seim ventured beyond early jazz playing to expand his palette via studies of Arabic music in Cairo; between 2005 and 2010, he collaborated often with Egyptian musician Fathy Salama. Seim has also explored Indian classical traditions, along with being inspired by Armenian duduk virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan – whose influence can be heard unmistakably in the emotive keening of “New Beginning” and “Sorrow March” on Helsinki Songs. In recent years, the saxophonist recognized certain kinships that these traditions – with their scales, modes and melodic arabesques – have with the folk music of his native Norway, even as he has returned to the format of the classic jazz quartet. “After the early ’90s, I was drawn to larger ensembles and small situations, like duos – perhaps unconsciously to avoid the jazz quartet, which has such a weight of history from Lester Young to John Coltrane and on and on,” Seim explains. “But now I’m surrounded in this quartet by players who enable me to really be myself.”
 
“Kristjan Randalu has technical skills that are beyond belief for me – he can do anything you need to be done at the piano,” the composer says. “But most important is that he can really make the piano sing, which is a rare thing. His touch is so beautiful that when you hear him play a chord, there are more than just those four or five notes in it. There’s soul.” About Eilertsen and Ounaskari, Seim adds: “Mats is such a creative bass player, with a wonderful sound. And Markku was inspired by Edward Vesala and his free, dramatic playing, though he can also play very simply. Mats and Markku also have this great connection with each other, something you can feel.”
 
The other dedications on Helsinki Songs include “Birthday Song,” which Seim wrote for Eilertsen. “For his 40th birthday, I got Mats a nice bottle of champagne and a Moleskine notebook for composing,” the saxophonist explains. “In that notebook, I wrote four melody notes and a chord – ‘here’s something to get you started,’ I said. Very early the next morning, after our celebrations, I came home a bit drunk and sat down at the piano, playing those four notes and the chord. I ended up ‘stealing’ them to write the rest of ‘Birthday Song’ before I went to sleep. The piece has some longing in it, like your 40th birthday can have.” Seim wrote the sweet-toned album opener “Sol’s Song” for his 7-year-old daughter and the Baroque-referencing “Ciaccona per Embrik” for his 9-year-old son, “although I actually wrote that tune when I first found out that I was going to be a father – when I felt emotions that were both fantastic and frightening, those feelings of a first-time parent.”
 
The melancholy “Katya’s Dream” was inspired by Seim’s viewing of Coco and Igor, a film about Stravinsky’s early years in Paris and his supposed relationship with Coco Chanel. Katya is the famed composer’s long-suffering first wife, who sacrificed her artistic dreams for those of her husband. When Seim first wrote “Morning Song,” the pianist Andreas Utnem noted hints in its opening to Jimmy Webb’s ballad “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” Seim didn’t know that song as a Webb composition, having assumed it was an original by singer Radka Toneff, whose cover was iconic in Norway. Subsequently delving into Webb’s music, Seim became a fan of the American hitmaker – and gave a new coda to “Morning Song” directly inspired by Webb. The album’s closing piece, “Yes, Please Both” manages to reference both a Winnie the Pooh phrase in the title and Ornette Coleman in the sound of the music (with the piano laying out in the introduction, à la Coleman’s classic recordings). Seim explains: “I’ve always been drawn to both free playing as inspired by people like Ornette and this other desire to play simpler, more melodic music.”
 
Reflecting on his influences, Seim says: “When I was a young boy, my father got me a saxophone, but I was more interested in soccer. Then we went on a long car drive, and he played Jan Garbarek’s ECM album Eventyr. I was so touched by it, just by the sound of Garbarek’s saxophone, that I really became interested in the instrument. Even now, that impression never leaves me. It’s something about the special way he produces his tone, but also the fact that while most players are concerned with how many notes they can play, Garbarek is always telling a story on the saxophone. Ever since, I’ve always been drawn to musicians who tell a story through their instruments. And that’s what I hope to do.”