Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim sets the mystical poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) using the inspired contemporary English-language versions of Coleman Barks as his source texts. Responding both to the musicality of the translations and to Rumi's storytelling gifts, Seim seems to have invented a new kind of Lieder. Classical mezzo-soprano Tora Augestad finds an intimate tone to convey Rumi's thoughts, which are underlined by the elegant arrangements for sax, accordion and cello.
Personnel: Tora Augestad (vocals); Svante Henryson (violin); Trygve Seim (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Frode Haltli (accordion).
Liner Note Author: Steve Lake .
Recording information: Rainbow Studio, Oslo (02/2015).
Photographer: Knut Bry.
Translator: Coleman Barks.
Encouraged by the late soprano Anne-Lise Berntsen, Norwegian saxophonist and composer Trygve Seim has been composing songs based on texts by Sufi mystic poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi since 2003 and experimenting with form and instrumentation. This date features his new quartet with mezzo-soprano Tora Augestad, accordionist Frode Haltli, and cellist Svante Henryson. Using formal art song, avant-garde composition, Egyptian classical music, and several other sources as guideposts, this cycle is a stellar achievement for the composer. The texts use the award-winning English translations by Coleman Barks. ("Seeing Double" was translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski with Lida Saedian.) While the pacing here is somewhat linear and the instrumentation sparse, the variety in Seim's charts -- alternately strictly annotated or sketched as lead sheets -- creates striking atmospherics and complex melodies and countermelodies for this chamber quartet. Musical surprise is everywhere. Augestad is an excellent focal point; her articulation reveals the mystery, humor, and ecstasy -- spiritual and carnal -- in Rumi's writings. When Seim's horn is on the front line, it expresses itself as smoky, soulful, wispy, and speculative, but the balance among the instruments is remarkable. "Seeing Double" uses tango, traces of French chanson, and folk-jazz. Henryson's cello offers a pizzicato bassline and a lilting lyric solo as Haltli provides quick fills and sprightly chords and Seim creates a second melody line that touches on folk music. "When I See Your Face" walks a tightrope between Egyptian and Indian modalism and nuevo tango. Seim delivers contrast by making use of Ben Webster's soulful ballad style as Haltli and Henryson engage in a canny dialogue under Augestad's vocal. It's followed by "Like Every Other Day," an elegant, purposefully drawn-out ballad that connects Brecht-Weill, Jerome Kern, and Norwegian folk music. The outlier here is the brief but startling instrumental "Whirling Rhythms," which showcases the spectrum of dialogic experience between Haltli and Seim -- whose musical relationship goes back decades. The quartet is at its best on the closer, "There Is Some Kiss We Want." Augestad expresses Rumi's observations on the deepest of the heart's longings with affirmation and generosity as the instrumentalists weave a joyful backdrop somehow simultaneously filled with yearning. Rumi Songs won't necessarily appeal to everyone, but that doesn't lessen the impact of Seim's achievement. His discipline, intuition, and imagination in writing for this group make Rumi's already accessible writings absolutely compelling as song. ~ Thom Jurek