Trygve Seim tenor and soprano saxophones
Kristjan Randalu piano
Mats Eilertsen double bass
Markku Ounaskari drums
Recorded January 2018 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Peer Espen Ursfjord
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 31, 2018
Every new release by Trygve Seim is cause for celebration. In this case, a quiet celebration, as the Norwegian saxophonist offers a brilliantly understated program in Helsinki Songs. Despite lacking a single lyric, the keyword here is “songs,” for every track tells a story in its own right, rendered through feeling rather than exposition. Thus, whether laying down a theme or straying freely from it, Seim is as much a singer as a reed player. All of which yields a dedicatoryalbum replete with friendship, love, and communication: the very hallmarks of an artist unafraid to clip his heart on his bell where most would settle for a microphone.
Of especial note are two tracks written for his children. Both “Sol’s Song” (for his daughter) and “Ciaccona per Embrik” (for his son) evoke budding minds whose blossoming is limited only by the amount of sunshine they’re willing to take in. Either melody is an exercise in honest reflection, balancing the anxiety of parenthood with the affirmations of its inarticulable joys. In each, bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Markku Ounaskari fill in the cracks of Randalu’s soulful bedrock, so that the way forward remains as smooth as this band traveling across it. “Birthday Song” likewise pays tribute to Eilertsen, whose pivoting therein from drunken haze to self-awareness is its own rejoicing. Other nods include Igor Stravinsky, whose relationship with his first wife is examined in the bittersweet “Katya’s Dream,” Jimmy Webb in the fiercely poetic “Morning Song,” and even a city in “Helsinki Song,” which matches its namesake’s blend of stark originality and hospitality. Another highlight is “Randalusian Folk Song,” which finds the selfsame pianist in a sublime mode, and Seim closest in spirit to one of his deepest influences: Jan Garbarek.
Other connections reveal themselves more in the playing than in the naming. “New Beginning” and “Sorrow March” speak of the emotional depths acquired in Seim’s studies with Armenian duduk virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan. These haunting tunes allow his backing trio to unravel filaments that might be missed as the bandleader cries out, as if from an arid mountain, knowing only the earth might be listening. That same rich soprano chases the setting sun of “Nocturne” and the Ornette Coleman-esque tail of “Yes Please Both.” The last, with its free charm, embraces questions without answers in a space of total clarity. As Seim himself notes, “I’m surrounded in this quartet by players who enable me to really be myself.” And boy, does it show.