Karl Seglem, Christian Wallumrød and Garth Knox at LSO St Luke’s, 10 June 2012

Photo © Oddleiv Apneseth

Christian Wallumrød piano, synthesizer, harmonium
Karl Seglem saxophone, goat horns
Garth Knox viola, viola d’amore

Billed as “an unconventional meeting of viola d’amore, goat horns and poetry”, this concert by Karl Seglem, Christian Wallumrød and Garth Knox was, in fact, both less formally idiosyncratic than that might suggest, and more simply, deeply pleasurable.

The pianist Christian Wallumrød and violist Garth Knox were introduced by BBC Radio 3 DJ Fiona Talkington for her BBC Radio 3 programme, Late Junction. They then formed the current three-way collaboration with Norwegian poet/saxophonist Karl Seglem, which made its performance debut in Oslo in March.

This, their first British concert, was part of the Conexions series curated by Talkington for USB Soundscapes: Eclectica, which aims to forge new connections between musicians from Norway and the UK. It took place in the atmospheric setting of LSO St Luke’s, London, a lovely space illuminated by diffuse late evening sunlight filtering through surrounding trees, enhancing the intimacy of a performance shaped around Seglem’s poetry.

Wallumrød and Knox are both grounded in contemporary classical, improvisational, and traditional music. Wallumrød comes from the broad school of new Norwegian jazz, having sidelined early ventures in electric jazz (as Close Erase) to focus increasingly on original chamber music. Knox, meanwhile, held the viola chair in the Arditti quartet from 1990-1997, playing music by composers such as Berio, Ligeti and Carter. He has since developed his own compositional style, and explored mediaeval, baroque and traditional celtic music. Often favouring the sweet-sounding baroque viola d’amore (a viol) over the viola, tonight he alternated between them.

Seglem read from his poetry in warm tones, carefully shaping each syllable with measured inflections in the Norwegian dialect in which it was written. The meanings of certain key words, such as those for wind and rain, were carried via the incantatory cadence of their recital, so it was possible to get the gist  while allowing the accompanying music to flesh out each evocation.

When not reading, Seglem focused mainly on tenor saxophone, his goat horns afforded a less vital role in proceedings than expected though his playing on them was surprisingly nuanced. His first sounds on the instrument were a reedy whistle and the rattle of spittle-flecked exhalation, in accompaniment to a viola solo.

Knox sometimes sounded his viola d’amore with the sweet burr often associated with the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, well suited to yearning folk-lyrical themes. If the ensemble sound was occasionally a touch too austere,  the evening’s most animated interlude was Knox’s solo feature, for which he stepped down into the audience while playing pizzicato with real bounce, reminding us that the instrument’s once-primary role was to accompany folk dancing (and reminding me of the rhythmic patterning of South African composer Kevin Volans’ string quartet White Man Sleeps).

Wallumrød often played the piano muted, its muffled key clicks sounding as softly tamped punctuation. During a solo feature he also played the piano’s harp in similar fashion. He also played harmonium, at one point blending superbly with a stately melody on goat horn from Seglem. In a solo continuation, Seglem sounded the horn first like a conch shell, then with vocal yelps and gutturals, Wallumrød then coming back with a cavernous, room-rattling electronic rumble from his synth that injected some tension into the evening.

Although Seglem’s tenor saxophone playing evoked the suspended atmospherics of Jan Garbarek, the trio’s music just as often touched on the place-specific emotional resonances of the music of the Lancastrian Richard Skelton, so the ambition to cross-fertilise British and Norwegian music was successfully, and at times brilliantly realised.

Wallumrød has recorded with Seglem for NORCD in the past, but there are apparently no plans as yet for this trio to record together. However, with Seglem about to join Wallumrød as an ECM recording artist I would think it’s only a matter of time until they do.

Related Posts
The Arditti Quartet and Gilbert Nouno play Jonathan Harvey’s  String Quartet no. 4 at LSO St Luke’s, January 2012

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