Trygve Seim: Sangam

Considering that “Sangam” means “coming together” or “confluence” in Sanskrit and is sometimes interpreted as “the meeting point of three rivers,” Trygve Seim's title choice couldn't be more apt. Not only does the Norwegian saxophonist's second ECM album splendidly integrate strains of jazz, world folk, and contemporary classical but also flatters the considerable talents of three instrumentalists in particular: trumpeter Arve Henriksen, clarinetist Håvard Lund, and Seim himself (though accordionist Frode Haltli merits mention too); in addition, the title subtly alludes to his well-received 2000 debut Different Rivers.

Seim deploys a nine-piece band throughout with two trombones and string ensemble added for the four-part Himmelrand i Tidevand, resources that enable him in true ECM spirit to embrace bold stylistic breadth with nary a hint of self-consciousness or apology. On the one hand, there's the twelve-minute “Dansante,” a playful jazz-flavoured showcase for Seim's composing and arranging talents. The title track, on the other hand, resembles a clarinet concerto for Lund though Henriksen adds mournful trumpet as well to the piece's lush strings, accordion, and cello setting. The album's stylistic diversity emerges most conspicuously in the aforementioned suite with its first part poignantly hymnal (and not a little reminiscent of Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), the second a drone meditation for sax, and the third's Spanish feel and bandoneon-like accordion respectively recalling Sketches of Spain and Piazzolla's 'Nuevo Tango.' The album's most glorious moment, though, arrives with the deeply moving ballad “Beginning An Ending.” Emerging slowly, Henriksen's sighing trumpet voices a mournful theme before a fuller ensemble of strings, horns, drums, and accordion dramatically weighs in. The spotlight again shifts to the trumpet, its cry even more affecting, until the music swells to a gorgeous close.

One of the things that distinguishes Seim as a leader is generosity. Though the album and its compositions are clearly his, he treats himself as merely one voice of many and instead mostly opts to parade his players' remarkable gifts. Having said that, Seim's playing is distinctive, with his sinuous soprano piercing and clear and his tenor fully-rounded and warm. If there's a weakness, it might be Sangam's seventy-minute length (the album wouldn't greatly suffer by the omission of “Trio,” for example) but that's hardly cause for major complaint when the recording offers so many treasures.

March 2005