Helsinki Songs Trygve Seim

Cover Helsinki Songs

Album info



Label: ECM Records

Genre: Jazz

Subgenre: Contemporary Jazz

Album including Album cover Booklet (PDF)

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  • 1Sol’s Song06:03
  • 2Helsinki Song07:54
  • 3New Beginning07:03
  • 4Ciaccona per Embrik06:00
  • 5Birthday Song05:59
  • 6Sorrow March07:52
  • 7Nocturne04:48
  • 8Randalusian Folk Song07:08
  • 9Katya’s Dream04:36
  • 10Morning Song03:42
  • 11Yes Please Both02:40
  • Total Runtime01:03:45

Info for Helsinki Songs

With its overt lyricism, strong themes and a sense of perpetual melodic invention, Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim’s new album quickly identifies itself as a classic-in-the-making. Themes of dedication run through Seim’s Helsinki Songs album, a set of tunes composed – for the most part – in the Finnish capital, and radiating tributes in many directions. Here are songs referencing Igor Stravinsky and Jimmy Webb, pieces dedicated to each of Seim’s gifted bandmates, and tunes that tip the hat, obliquely, to Ornette Coleman and Bill Evans. The quartet plays superbly throughout, with outstanding solos from leader Seim and pianist Kristjan Randalu. Helsinki Songs was recorded in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in January 2018 and produced by Manfred Eicher.

Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim’s eighth ECM album as a leader or co-leader, Helsinki Songs, reaches out to the listener, tugging the ear with its overt lyricism, ethereal atmosphere and air of sustained melodic invention, often with hints of the East. Seim wrote most of Helsinki Songs on sojourns in the Finnish capital, in an apartment with “a composer’s aura.” Back in Oslo, he brought the compositions to life at Rainbow Studio with his simpatico quartet featuring Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. Themes of dedication and tribute run throughout the new album, including pieces referencing Ornette Coleman and Jimmy Webb, as well as tunes dedicated to Seim’s children and bandmates.

It was with his ECM leader debut, Different Rivers, that Seim made an immediate impact on the jazz scene, with the disc winning the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik as Album of the Year in 2001. Since then, the saxophonist has been heard on more than 20 ECM releases, including Sangam with his large ensemble, on multiple albums with the collective The Source, in duos with accordionist Frode Halti and with pianist Andreas Utnem, and on recordings led by Manu Katché and Jacob Young. Recently, Seim has been heard as part of Eilertsen’s septet (Rubicon), with Iro Haarla and symphony orchestra (Ante Lucem) and with singer Sinikka Langeland and Trio Mediaeval (The Magical Forest). As a leader, Seim’s previous ECM release was Rumi Songs, the 2016 album featuring his settings of words by the titular Persian poet, the group including Haltli, cellist Svante Henryson and mezzo-soprano Tora Augestad. The Guardian praised that record as “playful, guileless, accessible,” singling out Seim’s playing for being full of “tonal and melodic surprises.”

A natural improviser, Seim ventured beyond early jazz playing to expand his palette via studies of Arabic music in Cairo; between 2005 and 2010, he collaborated often with Egyptian musician Fathy Salama. Seim has also explored Indian classical traditions, along with being inspired by Armenian duduk virtuoso Djivan Gasparyan – whose influence can be heard unmistakably in the emotive keening of “New Beginning” and “Sorrow March” on Helsinki Songs. In recent years, the saxophonist recognized certain kinships that these traditions – with their scales, modes and melodic arabesques – have with the folk music of his native Norway, even as he has returned to the format of the classic jazz quartet. “After the early ’90s, I was drawn to larger ensembles and small situations, like duos – perhaps unconsciously to avoid the jazz quartet, which has such a weight of history from Lester Young to John Coltrane and on and on,” Seim explains. “But now I’m surrounded in this quartet by players who enable me to really be myself.”

“Kristjan Randalu has technical skills that are beyond belief for me – he can do anything you need to be done at the piano,” the composer says. “But most important is that he can really make the piano sing, which is a rare thing. His touch is so beautiful that when you hear him play a chord, there are more than just those four or five notes in it. There’s soul.” About Eilertsen and Ounaskari, Seim adds: “Mats is such a creative bass player, with a wonderful sound. And Markku was inspired by Edward Vesala and his free, dramatic playing, though he can also play very simply. Mats and Markku also have this great connection with each other, something you can feel.”

The other dedications on Helsinki Songs include “Birthday Song,” which Seim wrote for Eilertsen. “For his 40th birthday, I got Mats a nice bottle of champagne and a Moleskine notebook for composing,” the saxophonist explains. “In that notebook, I wrote four melody notes and a chord – ‘here’s something to get you started,’ I said. Very early the next morning, after our celebrations, I came home a bit drunk and sat down at the piano, playing those four notes and the chord. I ended up ‘stealing’ them to write the rest of ‘Birthday Song’ before I went to sleep. The piece has some longing in it, like your 40th birthday can have.” Seim wrote the sweet-toned album opener “Sol’s Song” for his 7-year-old daughter and the Baroque-referencing “Ciaccona per Embrik” for his 9-year-old son, “although I actually wrote that tune when I first found out that I was going to be a father – when I felt emotions that were both fantastic and frightening, those feelings of a first-time parent.”

The melancholy “Katya’s Dream” was inspired by Seim’s viewing of Coco and Igor, a film about Stravinsky’s early years in Paris and his supposed relationship with Coco Chanel. Katya is the famed composer’s long-suffering first wife, who sacrificed her artistic dreams for those of her husband. When Seim first wrote “Morning Song,” the pianist Andreas Utnem noted hints in its opening to Jimmy Webb’s ballad “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.” Seim didn’t know that song as a Webb composition, having assumed it was an original by singer Radka Toneff, whose cover was iconic in Norway. Subsequently delving into Webb’s music, Seim became a fan of the American hitmaker – and gave a new coda to “Morning Song” directly inspired by Webb. The album’s closing piece, “Yes, Please Both” manages to reference both a Winnie the Pooh phrase in the title and Ornette Coleman in the sound of the music (with the piano laying out in the introduction, à la Coleman’s classic recordings). Seim explains: “I’ve always been drawn to both free playing as inspired by people like Ornette and this other desire to play simpler, more melodic music.”

Reflecting on his influences, Seim says: “When I was a young boy, my father got me a saxophone, but I was more interested in soccer. Then we went on a long car drive, and he played Jan Garbarek’s ECM album Eventyr. I was so touched by it, just by the sound of Garbarek’s saxophone, that I really became interested in the instrument. Even now, that impression never leaves me. It’s something about the special way he produces his tone, but also the fact that while most players are concerned with how many notes they can play, Garbarek is always telling a story on the saxophone. Ever since, I’ve always been drawn to musicians who tell a story through their instruments. And that’s what I hope to do.”

Trygve Seim, tenor and soprano saxophone
Kristjan Randalu, piano
Mats Eilertsen, double bass
Markku Ounaskari, drums

Trygve Seim
Born in Oslo, Norway, April 25th 1971. Educated a jazz musician (saxophone) at the jazz conservatory in Trondheim. Studied composition with Terje Bjørklund, Bertil Palmar Johansen, Edward Vesala and Bjørn Kruse. Since 1992 working full time as a musician, composer and arranger.

Released 9 records on the prestigious german record label ECM, whereas 5 of them as a band leader and composer and/or co-leader. In 2001 his debut album won the german records critics prize “Jahrespreis – Presi der Deuchten Schallplattenkritik”.

Made concert tours all over the world with his own ensemble, with The Source and as a sideman in other artist’s groups. Currently touring with- and composing for- his own ensemble (Trygve Seim Ensemble), Trygve Seim/Frode Haltli duet, the quartet The Source and soprano Tora Augestad. Also touring/recording with Iro Haarla Quintet, Sinikka Langeland’s group Starflowers, Jai Shankar Ensemble a.o. During 2005-2010 made several collaborating projects together with egyptian musician and composer Fathy Salama.

Kristjan Randalu
Born in Estonia in 1978 he moved with his family to Germany as a child where the piano became increasingly important to him. His teachers there included John Taylor in Cologne, followed by a time at the Royal Academy of Music in London (with Django Bates) and a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

His musical partners have included Dave Liebman, Ari Hoenig, Nguyên Lê, Ben Monder, Nils Petter Molvaer, Dhafer Youssef, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Hall, the Berlin Konzerthaus, at festivals in London, Paris, Madrid and Istanbul, and toured in the United States and Canada, across Europe and in Turkey, Korea, Australia and Israel.

He exudes an uncompromising determination to pursue the heart of musical expression through his sublime technique yet he is no flamboyant showman. Audiences are captivated by his warmth, his passion for music and his quietly confident and honest personality. His numerous recordings as both soloist and collaborator include a Grammy nomination in 2006 and Jazz Album of the Year at the 2012 Estonian Music Awards. His awards include the 2007 Jazz Award of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the 2011 Elion Jazz Award, the 2014 Music Award of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia and Jazz Composer of the Year 2018 in Estonia.

Mats Eilertsen
(born 4 March 1975 in Trondheim, Norway) is a Norwegian jazz musician and composer. He is known for recording with numerous bands, including the Maria Kannegaard Trio, Ola Kvernberg, Nils Økland, Eldbjørg Raknes, Anders Aarum Trio, Eirik Hegdal, Sverre Gjørvad, Nymark Collective, SKRUK, «Jazzmob», «Dingobats», Håkon Kornstad Trio, Food with Iain Ballamy, Jacob Young Band, Solveig Slettahjell's Slow Motion Orchestra, Håvard Wiik Trio, and «JazzCode».

Eilertsen attended the Trondheim Musikkonservatorium, where he participated in the Jazz program and was part of the Jazz band Dingobats along with fellow students Eirik Hegdal (saxophones), Njål Ølnes (tenor saxophone), Thomas Dahl (guitar) and Sverre Gjørvad (drums), primarily playing Hegdals compositions. He has two band releases as leader of the band Turanga, with band members Fredrik Ljungkvist, Ernst Reijseger, and Thomas Strønen. He also performed with the quartet «Parish», with some of the same members as of «Turanga». In 2006, he released the album Constellations (Jazzaway Records), with the Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila's trio, along with Olavi Luohivuori.[

Markku Ounaskari
(b. 1967) first studied drums at the Oulunkylä Pop and Jazz Conservatory and, beginning in 1987, at the Jazz Department of the Sibelius Academy. During this period, his professional career also began when he toured and recorded with two legendary Finnish groups, Piirpauke (Algazara in 1987 and Zerenade in 1989) and the Pekka Pohjola Group (Changing Waters in 1998). Beginning in the 1990s, Ounaskari made a number of recordings and toured in Europe, Asia and the Americas with pianist Jarmo Savolainen (John’s Song in 1996, Another Story in 1997, Times Like These in 2002, Grand Style 2004 and Songs For Trio in 2006). Ounaskari has played with all the major Finnish jazz figures (journalist Petri Silas once wrote that it would be easier to list the Finnish ensembles with which Ounaskari has not played). Early in his career he also toured and recorded with both Piirpauke and the Pekka Pohjola Group, Finnish pioneers of cross-genre music.

Beginning in 1999, Ounaskari has increasingly worked with international projects and bands becoming one of the internationally best known Finnish jazz musicians. These have included the Eric Vloeimans Band, Andre Fernandes Trio, Sinikka Langeland Ensemble, Fredrik Nordström & Niklas Winter Band, Filip Augustson Quintet, Willemark-Heinilä-Ounaskari-Jormin Band, Walter Beltrami Band, Fugara, Tomasz Stanko Quartet, Trygve Seim Quartet, Rotterdam Metropole Orchestra and many others. He regularly collaborates with artists such as Fausto Beccalossi, Raoul Björkenheim, Arve Henriksen, Anders Jormin, Nils Petter Molvaer, Trygve Seim, Markus Stockhausen, Tore Brunborg, Mats Eilertsen and Lena Willemark. He has also performed with many other internationally renowned musicians, including Ray Anderson, Furio di Castri, Lars Danielsson, Marc Ducret, Hein Van De Geyn, Tim Hagans, Ed Jones, Lee Konitz, Gnuyên Lê, Rick Margitza, Ron McClure, Judy Niemack, Lars Anders Tomter, Kenny Wheeler and Vertavo String Quartet.

In 2009, Ounaskari formed Kuara with Norwegian trumpeter Per Jørgessen and Finnish pianist Samuli Mikkonen. The group’s first recording for ECM Records, Kuara – Psalms and Folk Songs, received the Emma Award for the Best Finnish Jazz Recording of the Year 2010. 2014 he received ”Yrjö Price”, the most prestigious Jazz prize in Finland. He has made more than 60 recordings in Finland and abroad including 6 recordings for ECM Records.

Booklet for Helsinki Songs

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