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Trygve Seim / Øyvind Brække / Per Oddvar Johansen - The Source and Different Cikadas

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Artist: Trygve Seim / Øyvind Brække / Per Oddvar Johansen

Album: The Source and Different Cikadas

Label: ECM

Review date: Dec. 2, 2002

Chamber-Made Improvisation

ECM has long been the guiding light in presenting the contemporary explorations of European jazz and, through their “New Series,” also has a distinguished catalog of modern European classical composers. As much as these two aspects of the label’s output are generally considered separately, they are as instructive when considered in tandem, as mutually informing outgrowths of the same, intertwined musical tradition. A number of ECM’s releases are born from the fertile confluence of classical and jazz sensibilities, and many of the artists that record for the label have deep knowledge of both traditions. Such is the case with the collaborative effort represented on The Source and Different Cikadas.

While the album’s basic approach is indebted to the collective improvisatory experiments of such classic 60’s and early 70’s avant-gardists as Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Miles Davis, the instrumentation and ensemble construction has a strong grounding in chamber music. At the core of the album is the leaderless, fluctuating group known as “The Source.” This group, formed by Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim, trombonist Øyvind Brække and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen in 1993, has had a constantly shifting makeup, at different times collaborating with poets, DJs, rock groups, classical players, rai vocalists, opera singers, conceptual and performance artists and, on one occasion, ice hockey players. One constant in the Source’s history has been their emphasis on spontaneous collective improvisation. This philosophy is born out on The Source and Different Cikadas, which only rarely has anything close to a featured soloist. Rather than improvised lines, the album builds improvised planes and textures on top of relatively simple harmonic ideas.

The album’s opening track “Organisums Vitalis,” exemplifies this approach. Seim describes this composition as comprised of “six or seven lines. But we never decide who is going to play which line. Everything that’s played is written, but sometimes one line is played by several people, and sometimes one line may not be played. Every time we play it it’s very different.”

The other pre-existing part of this album’s musical conglomerate is the Cikada Quartet, a string quartet that has recorded for ECM before with Annette Peacock, Arild Andersen, Mats Edén and Bent Sørensen. Its members, violinists Henrik and Odd Hannisdal, violist Marek Konstantinowicz and cellist Morten Hannisdal, breathe throughout as one organism, shifting harmonic constructions seamlessly on the raucous Seim composition “Fort Jazz,” building subtle layers on Seim’s meditative “Bhavana,” and wandering lonely on the album’s closing group improvisation “Tutti Free.”

Pianist Christian Wallumrød, accordionist Frode Haltli, double-bassist Finn Guttormsen and trumpeter Arve Henriksen also rotate through the mix throughout the album. Henriksen and Guttormsen had been Source members previously, and Wallumrød and Haltli were added by ECM producer Manfred Eicher while the group was in the studio working on The Source and Different Cikadas. Brække says “[Eicher’s] idea was to have the two guests react freshly as soloists on some of the material. The band knew Wallumrød and Haltli well and had no difficulties in incorporating their presence, which enriched the music on the album.”

As a collective experiment in spontaneous collaboration, The Source and Different Cikadas is a great success. But its all-inclusive approach, with tight, light pieces like “Obecni Dum” next to edgy dirges like “Suppressions” next to the Cikada Quartet’s brief take on “Funebre” from the second movement of Witold Lutoslawski’s String Quartet, creates a scrapbook effect that fails to achieve an overall unity. While the multitude of musical ingredients and approaches keep the album exciting, it seems like at least three different albums at once. But then even the leanest of democracies loses its clarity of vision sometimes.

By Bruce Wallace

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