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Trygve Seim: Vanguard of a New Wave

John Kelman By

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I see myself on a mission. I have a large band with a lot of musicians, and it’s acoustic music. I want to be in this tradition of making acoustic music survive, because I think it’s so important. —Trygve Seim
When saxophonist/composer Trygve Seim emerged on the international scene in 2000 with his critically- acclaimed debut disc, Different Rivers, it was clear that yet another fresh voice had emerged from the infinitely deep wellspring of Norwegian talent that ECM label owner/producer Manfred Eicher has been drawing from for over 30 years. But whereas so much of the music coming from that part of the world revolves around a rich improvising tradition that fits tongue-in-groove with Eicher's "music of the moment" aesthetic, Seim seems to come equally from a more through-composed approach that owes as much to contemporary classical composers like Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Pärt as it does to Jan Garbarek and, in particular, deceased drummer/composer Edward Vesala.

That's not to say that there isn't spontaneity in Seim's long-form compositions, only that it is so well integrated with the structured form of his writing that it is sometimes a challenge to determine where the composition ends and the improvisation begins. And, truth be told, that's not the correct way to look at Seim's music either. Take Seim's latest disk, Sangam, which takes the premise of Different Rivers a step further, paradoxically, in terms of complexity and apparent simplicity. "When I wrote the music of Sangam, says Seim, "the layer underneath the solos is still heavily written, so the soloist is forced to do the things I want him to do, he's forced to follow the music so that it becomes more integrated. At the same time with [trumpeter] Arve Henriksen and [clarinetist] Håvard Lund, they're kind of specialists at doing this kind of thing. On the title track Håvard, throughout the whole song, is alternating between improvising and playing written material; he may improvise for 10 seconds and then play a five-second scored passage, it's a real challenge. But the thing is that Håvard makes the whole thing sound composed."

Seim may have been involved in the Norwegian music scene for the past 15 years, but he seems to have emerged almost overnight on the international stage. How has he managed to buck the more accepted trend towards jazz composition, where the writing acts as a vehicle for improvisation and loose interplay, instead creating a uniquely integrated sound for a larger ensemble that, while being more rigid in form, is still highly evocative, distinctly compelling and filled with life?

Chapter Index
Early Years
Early Groups and Trondheim
Edward Vesala
Jon Balke, Oslo 13 and Trondheim Kunst Orchestra
Different Rivers and the Compositional Process
Current Sources and Bending Conventions
Working With Manfred Eicher
On Playing
Touring and the Future

Early Years

Seim, a child of the '70s, didn't come from a particularly musical family; although his father played piano and his step-father guitar, neither pursued professional careers in music. "I had an older brother who played bass for a while when he was a teenager," explains Seim, "playing in punk groups and listening to bands like the Sex Pistols. Naturally, as he was my big brother, I was listening to a lot of the same music, as well as The Police and Bob Marley, who were my favorite artists around that time."

Then, at the age of 14, Seim heard an album that, like his contemporary Jacob Young, was to have a profound influence on him. "I heard Jan Garbarek's Eventyr," Seim says, "and that kind of made my decision to play saxophone. It was just a coincidence really, that my step-father played me Eventyr; we were on a trip in the mountains when I first heard it. It was not so much an intellectual thing; the melodies on the album just touched my heart directly. Anyway, my father had a saxophone that he wasn't using, so he said I could have it and that was the beginning.

"At the same time," continues Seim, "I remember the first jazz record I ever got was Miles Davis' Decoy, and that was also very important to me, as was much of Miles' music from that period. I think one of the things that appealed to me about both Miles and Garbarek is that, in the American tradition, the music always seems to be more about showing how well you can play—impressing the musicians on stage with you, or the people in the audience. But Garbarek and Miles were more about playing in service of the music, rather than simply showing off their abilities as improvisers."

And, of course, it would be hard to imagine that the whole ECM aesthetic didn't have a direct impact on Seim. "I find the ECM aesthetic," Seim explains, "which seems more about the music and less about demonstrating chops, to be more interesting in the end. ECM albums like Old and New Dreams were especially influential. There's a song on that album, I can't remember the title, but it starts off with Don Cherry solo, and that tune still pops up in my head from time to time."

That's not to say that American improvisers didn't have some impact on the developing Seim. "I had a long period where I listened to a lot of Dexter Gordon," says Seim, "and I went to a lot of jam sessions and played standards. People often told me that I sounded like Dexter Gordon, which I think was quite obvious because I was working so hard to sound like him, transcribing his improvisations. I lived in Denmark for a year and, while he wasn't living there at the time, Dexter was still very important to the Danish jazz community, everyone was still talking about him and he retained a lot of status." class="f-right"> Return to Index...

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