Trygve Seim: Vanguard of a New Wave
With the emphasis so strongly on Seim the composer, it becomes easy to overlook that he's a strong improviser, with a style that combines the best of his influencesGarbarek, Brunborg and Gordon to be sure, but also some of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler blended into the mix. And yet, as impressive a player as he is, he considers the concept of soloing as the sole raison d'etre to be less than appealing. "When I went through that period I mentioned where I wanted to quit playing," Seim says, "one of the things that really made me doubt playing was this solo thing so prevalent in jazz music. When you go to a festival, it almost feels like you are going to a shopping centre where people are marketing their wares, standing there and playing solos because they want to impress the other musicians on stage, the audience (especially if there's musicians in the audience) and promoters so they'll be able to get better work. To me that is not at all what music is about. For a long period I was anti-solo, I didn't want to play any solos, although these days I do every now and then. But I don't find soloing in the traditional manner particularly interesting; so often it's more about showing off, and there are so many jazz musicians who are more like salesmen.
"While one might consider my avoidance of overt soloing to reflect a certain lack of ego," concludes Seim, "in the end it may be just the opposite because I rebel against the traditional form of jazz playing."
With an ensemble that currently stands as a nine-piece, there are certain obstacles against which Seim must fight to get his music heard in live venues. "Lately I've become a little irritated," Seim explains, "because I'm not charging a lot of money for my group; it's more the airline tickets and hotels that get expensive. But when Pat Metheny plays in Europe it will cost 20 times what my group costs, and that's no problem, so the situation is strange, I think. And that's why it becomes more and more a society where if you're in the top echelon you can ask for whatever you want, if you're not, you can't get anything at all. Sometimes it seems like robbery. Still, this year we have a tour in Germany and Austria, then we'll play some single festival concerts, because there are some festivals that want us and can afford to bring us."
Meanwhile, with Sangam out in Europe since November '04, but just seeing release in North America, time will tell as to what degree of acceptance Seim's musical vision will receive Stateside. The reception in Europe has been extremely positive. But along with continuing to keep his own ensemble and The Source going concerns, and the project with Iro Haarla, Seim has been spreading himself even further. "I am playing in a duo with Frode Haltli, the accordion player," Seim says, "and we're going to make a record for ECM. But there are some promoters who ask if I can cut my group down to a quintet or something, but it simply doesn't work that way.
"I'm also beginning to write a lot now for a classical opera singer," concludes Seim. "She has commissioned music from me, so I have written four pieces for her so farthree for church organ and piano, and one for a trio of piano, violin and cello. The music is based on text by the Persian writer Rumi, translated into English by Coleman Barks. This is something I've found very interesting, and I hope to do more."
Despite his distinctly non-mainstream approach, and influences that come from farther afield, Seim's music may be difficult to categorize but still fits most neatly within a jazz umbrella. But he clearly challenges accepted definitions by making improvisation an integrated part of the overall compositional process. And with critical acclaim coming from far and wide, the future looks promising for Seim, still in his mid-30s and already creating music of remarkable depth and maturity. Along with artists including Jacob Young, Christianød, Tord Gustavsen and Arve Henriksen, Seim is truly on the vanguard of a new wave of Norwegian music that is as exciting and refreshingly new as the first wave that emerged in the early '70s.
Colin Eick/ECM Records