Jan Gabarek. There, I had to get that out of way right off. A Norwegian saxophone player who skillfully blends jazz with folk music of his homeland...who else would come to mind so quickly? Probably no one. But to be fair to tenor saxophonist Karl Seglem, he's worked hard to build his own legacy and NORSKjazz.no, out stateside on this day, is his twenty-fifth album. Thus, I'm going to assess this record without saying it sounds like Jan Garbarek," because that would be weak. And NORSKjazz.no is anything but.
Karl Seglem, like Garberek though, does embody the best elements about Nordic jazz: composed but passionate, intelligent but airy, meditative but exploratory. Although thoroughly schooled in American jazz, Seglem soon found greater comfort in by deviating from that via such music forms as free improvs and Norwegian folk melodies. But today his twenty-five year professional career comes full circle with the release of NORSKjazz.no.
NORSKjazz.no is a play on the words Norsk jazz no," which means Norwegian jazz now" in English. Reluctant to have labels assigned to his works but understanding that listeners often feel the need to, he seeks to placate those who want a label to latch onto before even listening to a piece of music. Thus, the self-descriptive title.
How much Seglam himself considers this to be jazz" is uncertain, but it's clear he wanted to do something that's closer to mainstream jazz than what he's been identified with. For Seglam, that meant being backed up by a more traditional, acoustic jazz trio. Instead of assembling one himself, he utilized a rhythm section with no assembly required: the young triad of Norwegians called the Eple Trio, who have two albums out of their own. And so, joining Seglem are Andreas Ulvo on piano, Sigurd Hole on double bass and Jonas Howden Sjvaag on drums and, percussion.
This collection of seven Seglem originals and one traditional Norwegian folk song have the sterile and unhurried hallmarks of European jazz give it that ECM" look and feel, but actually established much earlier by the great Swede jazz musician Jan Johansson, who first found the intersection of jazz with Sandinavian folk forms and Continental chamber music, inspiring several generations of Nordic players who've followed, from Garbarek forward to Seglem and now, the Eple Trio. As such, the songs don't take on any bop or even blues structures, but instead the more natural, unassuming character of their familiar surroundings. Songs flow like water down a stream, not like boulders down a mountainside. There's no jerk-motion shifts in tempo or melody, as songs unfold in a natural progression.
That approach results in a very, very coherent record---maybe too coherent---as each song assumes nearly identical personalities, but a few selections here do stand out in some subtle ways. Selglam's command of the upper register of Portualsong" is such that his tenor sax can almost be mistaken for a soprano, while his vibrato is voice-like, giving his horn a distinctive singing quality. The same goes for Nattsong," which has the most thematic, lissome melody in these batch of songs. The traditional Norwegian ret Hallar" provides a showcase for the Eple Trio in the form of Hole's bowed bass performance at the beginning of the tune, and some powerfully nuanced drumming by Sjvaag. Sjvaag also applies this voluminous, rock-styled manner to the Lull," bringing the entire band to a nearly raucous crescendo, then pulling them back from the edge.
So Karl Seglem makes his jazz statement on NORSKjazz.no, but the more one actually takes the time to absorb this album, the more tongue-in-cheek that title seems. For even in an unplugged, meat-and-potatoes backing setting of piano/bass/drums, Seglem with the help of his younger cohorts, can't help to project their own identity borne from their own preferences and experiences over what someone else's idea of what jazz is. And maybe that is precisely what Norwegian jazz is about.
Purchase: Karl Seglem - NORSKjazz.no