Jul 27 2013
The Something Different review series highlights albums that are unlike anything else and embrace the best qualities of creative vision.
Originally commissioned for live performance at the 2012 Vossajazz Festival, trumpeter Gunhild Seim, thankfully, has released Story Water as a proper recording. This is a good thing. Whenever I see a promo that begins with the premise that the recording began, initially, as a commission for a live event, I expect to hear something different… because that’s what the festival organizers are expecting. They aren’t paying out good cash to just hear more of the good stuff. They want the musician to extend outward, to head into creative territory that, previously, the musician perhaps only considered briefly in the practice room and past recordings. They will want the musician to not only challenge their own personal voice, but the boundaries of the music itself. They want something different.
Gunhild Seim’s Story Water is just that. A mix of jazz, rock, folk, country, pop, and, likely, a hodgepodge of other influences hiding amongst the trees, Story Water brings it all together with dramatic openness and unabashed theatrics, presenting a fearless vulnerability of music takes leaps from many angles and many distances, realizing that the magic found in the liftoff is far more potent than a satisfying, successful landing. I’m not sure that there isn’t something about this album that is just a little bit courageous.
Your album personnel: Gunhild Seim (trumpet, percussion, vocals), Trym Bjønnes (vocals, guitar), Klaus Holm (clarinet, baritone sax), Petter Frost Fadnes (c-mel sax, baritone sax), Vidar Schanche (guitar, vocals), and Ståle Birkeland (drums, electronics, vocals).
The twin baritone saxes of Holm and Fadnes endow the music with a substantive growl and weight, even as they dig deep trenches in which to lay down party-time grooves and thick tangles of euphoric lines. Other times, they’re a lesson in playful shadowboxing. They take turn throwing punches in the air, except those times when they intertwine their lines, creating a force of one moving in multiple directions.
Vocalist Bjønnes sometimes shouts out phrases with a clipped Stop-Making-Sense David Byrne style, and other times delivers an oblique melodic fragility of Efterklang’s Casper Clausen. And most importantly, his voice often serves as the bridge between divergent instruments, bringing together a soaring trumpet section and the twin-burrowing of bari saxes or the drone of electronics and the bright notes of guitar.
“Who Says Words With My Mouth” has sax and trumpet digging a deep groove, and with shouted vocals, the music has a celebratory Friday Night atmosphere.
The title-track is a gentler piece, with vocals a pleasant hum and guitar picking out an ambient path. Seim’s trumpet flaps its wings, gaining speed and power, but stays near the ground of Birkeland’s percussion, jangling and thumping like the pulse and heartbeat of the earth.
“Diary” begins with a pulsing rhythm on trumpet, an expressive, though subdued voice. Saxes build up intensity, and eventually the piece becomes a twister of notes traveling free and fast. But like much of the music on this album, the motif doesn’t sit in place for very long. An ambient drone that grows into a free jazz expressiveness transitions seamlessly to a pop music tune of lovely hooks and lovelier harmonies.
“Interlude I” shouts out ponderous notes that lurch forward and then dissipate into a quavering drone. “Interlude II” is sunrise peaceful, with a distant warmth. “Interlude III” is a rock n’ roll torrent of ferocity, anchored by sax but driven by percussion.
The contemplative “Pale Sunlight” drifts like motes of dust on rays of daylight breaking through the window. Vocals have an ethereal quality. Guitar is the shadowy outline of the melody. Trumpet delivers notes with an inviting casual ease. And a song that begins with contemplation builds up to dramatic furor, trumpet and saxes calling out with wild abandon as drums pound out the measure of their progress.
“Drum” goes through several changes, beginning as a wisp of a tune, but then firing off avant-garde scattershot, highlighted by the growl of sax and Schanche’s guitar contributing some nifty twang. This leads to a more conventional platform from which Seim is able to solo atop a pulsing cadence of clarinet and flurry of drums… a structure which threatens to break apart at the seams, but lands with an impressive grace.
“Breath” is a flurry of kinetic energy echoing off the walls of a tiny room. Eventually the trails of scattered notes begin to form patterns of their own, and the song develops form and substance and shape, and then Bjønnes voice enters and the other instruments gather about him as he leads them through an angular tune with an indie-pop flair. This transitions right into “Little Boy Blue,” a take on the old nursery rhyme, which the ensemble gives a dramatic rendition… Seim’s trumpet calling up to the heavens, drums a series of firework explosions, voices rising up in harmony, and guitar a flickering light in the storm that can be seen from miles away. This intensity doesn’t abate until the song ends to applause, but it does develop a head-bopping cadence to see it through to the last note… a pulsing rhythm balanced by the high pitched drone and hum of electronics and guitar… and providing the performance with a dramatic climax that is equal parts furious and tuneful.
There’s so much to like about this album, but for me personally, I just adore a recording that is able to combine fearless creativity and experimentalism with a pop music sensibility… resulting in an album that is a seemingly simple listen even as it challenges the senses in a game of shifting engagement. Outstanding.
Released on the Drollehålå Records label, which may be Seim’s own label.
Music from the Stavanger, Norway scene.