Karl Seglem - fusing improvisation and tradition (part 2)

Says saxophonist and composer Karl Seglem: ‘Jazz represents the freedom to do what you want,’ and now I feel that I’m doing just that. In my own mind I think that I’m on my way to cultivating a form of expression that I feel at home with.’ Read more on Seglem’s approach to the symbiosis of jazz and folk music as well as some words on Jan Garbarek’s influence in the second part of his interview.

Karl Seglem

Strong focus on his own career
The new album and band also marks a shift in focus for Seglem. He will now tone down his involvement with NORCD and direct his energy to his new band and release. He explains, “Last year I took the decision to have a stronger focus on my own career, and work more with my own projects. I feel that the timing is good – it’s my turn to make it happen now.”

With one foot in the jazz camp and the other stomping the beat of traditional Norwegian folk music, Seglem is a man of both worlds. He is not afraid of being pigeonholed or seen as a performer lacking focus, and he explains that his message gets across when he plays abroad. “I’m being perceived abroad primarily as an improviser. I feel that over the years I’ve managed to create a good balance between the improvised and the folk music-based forms of expression. I have a saying that goes ‘Jazz represents the freedom to do what you want,’ and now I feel that I’m doing just that. In my own mind I think that I’m on my way to cultivating a form of expression that I feel at home with. I can perform 30-40 traditional Hardanger fiddle slåtter (dances) on saxophone; there aren’t many sax players that can match that feat!”

A trademark feature at Seglem’s concerts is his use of unconventional instruments. Perhaps the most striking example of this is his use of a goat’s horns as a wind instrument. The haunting sound of the horns is amplified and underscored with wild effects. Of his unusual instrument choice, Seglem says, “The goat’s horns are great instruments to work with. Live, I feel secure in the way I express myself on the horns and the way I use such effects as distortion and octaver pedals. It sounds like nothing else – it’s a primal sound. When we play live we really rock the house. It’s loud and makes the ground shake.”

On Garbarek
It is perhaps inevitable that any Norwegian saxophone player experimenting with folk music is associated with sax icon Jan Garbarek. The legendary saxophonist and composer has blazed a trail that leads to comparisons with other up-and-coming sax players. Says Seglem on the comparisons, “Garbarek is a fantastic musician and has been a great inspiration. He has gone his own way – he has walked a straight line. It’s inevitable that I’m being compared to Garbarek; in the past it could be a bit of a burden, but now it’s just an honour. I have been working more with a basis in Norwegian folk music, whereas Garbarek has done more work with international folk musicians.”

On the subject of collaboration across the borders, Seglem is enthusiastic, saying, “I hope that I can have the opportunity to work more with performers from other parts of the world – musicians from totally different backgrounds and countries. I want to use my new band as a basis for collaboration with international performers.”

Literature and music
The link between the written word and music has been a focal point for many of Seglem’s projects. In particular, his collaborations with perhaps Norway’s most renowned contemporary novelist, lyricist and dramatist Jon Fosse have created many rewarding examples of symbiosis of poems and music. Seglem is also respected for his own writing and is a keen reader. Currently, he’s shifting focus and eschews the use of guest vocalists and interpretations of lyrics. “For now, I’m moving away from my focus on poetry/lyricism versus music. If I’m to do such projects again, it must be a clearly defined project and also different from my instrumental work. While I read a lot of literature and have a close relationship with the written word, I’m done with the concepts that involve a guest vocalist singing lyrics by external poets, accompanied by a group of musicians.”

A maturing performer
One realizes that two decades of hectic performing, touring and recording would lend itself to substantial development on the horn. Seglem agrees, saying, “My tone has developed over the years. Playing is about self-expression and I now feel more confident and more relaxed when playing.” He continues, “It’s about peeling off extraneous layers. To reach some kind of core – to have the guts to remove things. The simple parts are often the most difficult. You have to trust yourself and strive to build self-confidence. You have to know that the music you perform is something that one can believe in. The traditional Norwegian folk music is apparently simple, but yet also complicated. There’s a duality there that’s very fascinating.”

One thing that Seglem is more aware of now is dynamics and the inter-relations between instruments. “I have focussed a lot on playing with a low volume but at the same time with a powerful expression. I try not to force things. There is a great difference in volume when comparing the saxophone and the Hardanger fiddle – you have to keep the volume down when you play with a fiddler. A fiddler bows the strings, making a continuous sound that you have to match. You have to develop some form of circular breathing – you can’t be short of breath when you play with a Hardanger fiddle! I have been focussing a lot on the sonorous aspects of my playing to match it better with the fiddle.”

It is a confident and eager Seglem that rounds off the interview with a conclusion that bodes well for his upcoming release and tour. “I’m eager to hit the stage with my new band and take things a step up the ladder. I feel that it’s my turn now – I’m eager to get on the road and prove my worth.”

Out Now:
Femstein (Long Distance)
Distributed by: harmonia mundi

Recommended Recording:
New North (NORCD/Ozella)

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