Tora Augestad, vocalist; Frode Halfti, accordion; Svante Henryson, violoncello; Trygve Seim, tenor and soprano saxophones
Coleman Barks is the best known contemporary English translator of the works of 13th century poet Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273). His work is the inspiration for saxophonist Trygve Seim’s off-kilter yet musically engaging Rumi Songs, a collection of present day lieder with a medieval Persian twist. The ensemble assembled for this project is an unorthodox grouping, with Seim on saxophones, mezzo-soprano Tora Augestad serving as vocalist, accordionist Frode Halfti, and cellist Svante Henryson.
The combination of textures that the group summons to accompany Augestad’s winsome vocals is abundantly varied but invariably pleasing. Halfti, in particular, brings a mercurial set of tone colors to bear, shadowing Seim and/or Henryson to craft beautiful amalgams of sound. Seim brings a strongly melodic sensibility to his solos, often doubling what was previously uttered by Augestad, but with the addition of tasteful filigrees. Although his sonorous tone sometimes anchors the low end, Henryson doesn’t just function in a bass-line role, but often revels in supplying countermelodies to fill in the proceedings. While it is an unexpected treatment of his poetry, Rumi is well served here by imaginative compositions in compelling arrangements.
Eirik Hegdal, saxophones/clarinettes; Trygve Seim, saxophones; Thomas T Dahl, guitar; Rob Waring, vibraphone/marimba; Harmen Fraanje, piano/fender rhodes; Olavi Louhivuori, drums; Mats Eilertsen, bass
In his debut as a leader on ECM, Rubicon, bassist Mats Eilertsen fronts a formidable septet of musicians with whom he has collaborated on many previous sessions. To be fair, many of the tracks on Rubicon feature subsets of the larger group, but the overall musical effect is filled with fascinating textures regardless. Apart from a single tune by pianist Harmen Fraanje and a group-composed piece, the compositions here are all by Eilertsen. He proves to be as adept a creator as he is a performer.
It is particularly interesting to hear Eilertsen interact with the comping instruments, Thomas T. Dahl’s guitar, Rob Waring’s vibraphone and marimba, and Fraanje’s piano and Fender Rhodes. There is a sense in which the bass’s walking lines set up another whole layer of harmony, allowing chordal interjections to be interposed with linear excursions by all three aforementioned players. This sense of “walking harmony” and the rhythmically propulsive quality in Eilertsen’s playing is equally savory when juxtaposed against the playing of the two saxophonists on the date, Eirik Hegdal and Trygve Seim. Seim is well known to ECM listeners; Hegdal makes his debut. The enveloping quality of their duets is stirring and it makes for formidable counterpoint against the rhythm section.
Album opener “Canto” begins with a winds cadenza, accompanied by marimba, after which Eilertsen makes his presence known and Fraanje supplies a wistful solo. Eilertsen’s subsequent solo is pristine in its lyricism and drummer Olavi Louhivuori provides subtle interjections. “March” may be a slow-paced composition, but it has an adroit buildup and memorable melodic material. Waring’s vibraphone playing is marvelous. “Lago” begins sparely, with a duet between Fraanje and Eilertsen that only gradually cedes some territory to the saxophone. Fraanje shapes his solo with technical poise and a keen sense of pacing, later further developing its melodic material alongside the saxophones.
“Wood and Water,” co-composed by Eilertsen with Waring and Hegdal, features the latter musician playing clarinet. It begins misterioso, but in two minutes travels to considerably more jocular terrain. Short and sweet, but one wishes this trio played on longer. More expansive is album standout “September” which is given its motor by a riff first stated in the vibraphone and then taken over by the bass. The vibraphone takes on a more linear role, joined by saxophone and guitar on overlapping melodies. Both guitar and vibraphone are given ample room to solo and eventually are joined in ensemble passages by the saxophone. All of this builds to the piece’s climax, followed by a denouement that returns the proceedings to the simple ostinato riff from the opening in the vibraphone, gently coaxed to its conclusion by the other ensemble members. Whether the band is given room to develop material or are directed to take a more aphoristic collective approach, Eilertsen’s Rubicon has many moments of noteworthy music-making.