CD REVIEW: Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs


Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
(ECM 675 1580. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The singular title track of this album, Helsinki Song, has a four-note ostinato line from double bassist Mats Eilertsen complemented by slowly building snare and cymbals from Markku Ounaskari and overlain with a compelling, singing melody from Trygve Seim’s tenor and Kristjan Randalu’s piano in tandem.

It rises and falls beautifully and Seim and Randalu lay down astutely-judged and deeply-felt solos. Meanwhile Eilertsen just keeps on and on with that line, saying such a lot with so little, so that when he varies it slightly – to take it higher behind the piano solo and then through a set of changes before returning with the rest of the band to the theme – one almost holds one’s breath.

And breath is significant here – as a friend noted when he heard this, the song really breathes. And so it does! Maybe that’s how it goes straight to the listener’s heart. It’s a quality, simultaneously both spiritual and visceral, that is found running right through this album.

Trygve Seim has found, with this quartet, what feels to me like an ideal balance. In the Estonian Randalu, especially, he has the perfect complementary soloist; the piano improvisations throughout this album have had me smiling with pleasure.

There are references here to Seim’s admiration for Jimmy Webb – Morning Song is, I understand, a kind of coda to one of Webb’s tunes, and that makes sense: there is very much a songlike feeling to most of the tracks on the album. Stravinsky is referenced in Katya’s Dream, inspired by a film about the composer.

The saxophonist’s playing is very special indeed. His soprano sounds almost like the Armenian duduk at times, such is his tone-bending skill, while his tenor tone, once perhaps a little too strongly in thrall to Jan Garbarek, is now unmistakably his and his alone.

This album keeps on giving. I felt I had had my money’s worth even before I had reached the sublime stateliness of Sorrow March – and that’s just track six of 11. In a list of 2018’s most beautiful new music, Helsinki Songs must surely rank very highly indeed.

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