Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli: Yeraz (ECM 2044)



Trygve Seim soprano and tenor saxophones
Frode Haltli accordion
Recorded June 2007 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Saxophonist Trygve Seim and accordionist Frode Haltli, both children of the Norwegian jazz scene and frequent collaborators who have grown into some of that scene’s most genre-defying proponents, pair up for an intimate songbook of frequencies that wraps the duo’s minds around an erudite program of mostly Seim-composed pieces. Exceptions include the haunting and windswept Armenian traditional song, from which the album gets its name, and the seemingly bipartite “MmBall,” penned by Seim’s go-to drummer, Per Oddvar Johansen. Seim and Haltli further explore two melodies—“Bayaty” and “Duduki”—by spiritual guru G. I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949), who, since Keith Jarrett’s 1980 Sacred Hymns, has been a ghostly presence on a handful of ECM projects.

Seim Haltli
(Photo credit: Morten Krogvold)

Compared to past recordings, Haltli treads more carefully across the accordion’s polar ice caps, his touch as pliant as ever. With the slightest pitch bend or intervallic quaver, the accordion’s inner heart speaks with utmost profundity, especially in the lower range, which despite a seemingly tenuous hold on notes lays foundations of its own. Seim proves an ideal partner, not only sonically—both are reedmen of sorts—but also in musicality. Nowhere more so than in their interpretation of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” for which the instruments blend so well they sound like extensions of one another, regressions and evolutions linking toward plush, resolute skies. In the Gurdjieff pieces, too, the duo feels like a splitting of the same consciousness. Seim’s duduk-like sound reveals tonal mastery, painting a cathedral from the steeple down to Haltli’s throaty bedrock.

As for Seim’s pieces, each is possessed of its own physical property. From the slow-moving liquid of “Airamero” to the cinematic grain of the Tom Waits-inspired “Waits for Waltz,” his writing engenders a joyous but never boisterous sense of play and understated virtuosity. Other Seim notables: the less inhibited brushwork of “Fast Jazz” and the accordion solo “Bhavana,” for which Haltli’s transcendent highs evoke the Russian bayan or, perhaps, the Japanese shō.

Holding the disc together are the freely improvised “Praeludium” and “Postludium,” each a beginning and an end in and of itself, waiting to redraw the circle. Thankfully, the PLAY button allows us to do just that.

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