That jazz has become an international language has always been best exemplified in the cutting-edge artists of Europe. Han Bennick, Evan Parker, Tony Oxley, Enrico Rava and Derek Bailey were influenced by the American avant-garde movement of artists like Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, among others, and used those influences in creating their own developmental branch on jazz’s tree. That American artists like Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, not to mention Canadian Kenny Wheeler, had to travel to Europe in order to find artists daring enough to be forward-thinking only reiterates how American jazz failed to progress, for a time, in a post-Coltrane age.
Norwegian composer, tenor saxophonist, goat horn player and electronic musician Karl Seglem is certainly a product of this European musical melting pot. Having released 23 recordings since 1988, his music seeks to find meaning in the same way Bartok undertook his own search for a unique musical voice. Both composers use folk music styles, as well as actual folk-melodies, in their music. What makes each unique, however, is how they transform the styles and melodies of their native land through their own musical prism to create singularly expressive compositions.
Urbs, Seglem’s latest release on his own NORCD label, is jazz, per se, in how it uses the spirit of jazz to bring new-found life to elements found within Norwegian hill-country and traditional music. A rollicking spirit of exhilaration is brought about by an emphasis on strong downbeats, heavy percussion and forceful phrasing. This mixture serves to spur the musicians into higher states of performance in much the same way Irish musicians will excite a crowd through many repetitions of the same melody by making each new melodic statement rhythmically stronger and more accented.
The 12/8 mixed-meter feel of "Rudland" is an excellent example of what is found throughout the disc. Helge Norbakken’s percussion, while always coming in on one, subdivides the 12 back-beat feel into different subdivisions in a manner similar to the way a good German ensemble can make a Landler swing in and out of waltz meter. The melody adopts the spirit of a Norwegian folk melody, turning the whole experience into a gravity defying romp. The small bits of improvisation do more in shaping the contours of the composition rather than define themselves as chop busting displays.
Other highlights of the recording include two pieces where Seglem plays the difficult goat horn. In "Urbs (Lat. City)" the instrument, combined with electronics, guitar, percussion and hardanger fiddle, all combine to create an almost impossibly balanced techno dance beat. If this isn’t hip, then nothing is. On "Over Oslo" Seglem’s precision playing, accompanied only by Reidar Skar’s electronic manipulations, updates the sheep herding music of Norway’s magnificent mountain ranges by creating a new context for country sounds."Nye Nord" is about as close to jazz as the recording gets. In the same way Oregon would set up a bed of light percussive sounds upon which beautiful melodies could be spun, here too Seglem has Norbakken use light and small membranophones to set the stage for the beautiful tenor sax melody. Olav Torget’s guitar and Hakon Hogemo’s fiddle add their own colors later all wrapped within Norbakken’s subtle percussion. Pure and simple this is a great recording, but only if you have ears to allow for the sound of traditional cultures and peoples.