Although fine in theory, this part-improvised collection is not the sumptuous account of Rumi’s poetry that you may expect. One half of the band works better than the other.

Label: ECM
Time: 10 Tracks / 54 mins

The thirteenth century Persian poet Jelaluddin Rumi was a hugely inspirational writer, whose work is still being enjoyed today. Once a disciplined theologian, his art was sparked by meeting an impetuous dervish named Shams Tabriz. After Shams disappeared, Rumi produced 40,000 verses of poetry. Bandleader Seim describes his work as “very human poetry... beyond religion, countries, race,” and is not the only musician to have used it as a springboard for composition.

This release begins with a hint of promise on “In Your Beauty.”  Tora Augestad‘s voice sings quietly to the gentle accompaniment of Frode Haltli’s accordion and Svante Henryson’s violoncello. Bandleader Seim’s sax is barely there, and the song fades out with a lush, hanging final note that fades as slowly as a setting sun.

The following piece, the more angular “Seeing Double,” is a jauntier work that bounces along. Its tune is a fine vehicle for all the players and Seim adds a gentle, sensual touch at the end, fading into the cello as it picks up the same line. Instrumentally, there is a great understanding here - and Seim has spent a lot of time in Egypt, immersing himself in the musical culture.

From here, things feel more experimental. “Across the Doorstill” begins with Haltli’s accordion remarkably producing sounds that are almost like bells and seem too delicate to be made by the instrument. The whole piece is built around the five notes of the hook line “Don’t go back to sleep.”

But for me, this is where the album divides. Rumi’s lyrics are highly sensual and Seim’s saxophone is an ideal sound to cushion them in. It has a warm tone that I could listen to all day long. Seim drops in and out of these songs selflessly, but I’d like him to assert himself more, as the attention defaults to singer Augestad, and it is her voice that spoils the disc for me.

I cannot help but contrast this release with another Rumi-inspired work (Dawning by Saffron) that also included improvisation and sax. But Saffron’s breathily-spoken Persian is far more exotic and alluring than Augestad’s cold, harsh voice. As well as the occasional dodgy pitch, her singing is also unclear; I had to resort to the liner notes to catch what the songs were about - and the lyrics are well worth catching.

So come the middle, tracks like “When I See Your Face” and “Like Every Other Day” are dull, with Augestad and the accordion combining to produce too much of a drone.

Tantalisingly, it all comes together on the final track “There is Some Kiss We Want” – and you realise it within seconds. It has a strong tune; the instruments are all locked into it, there is recognisable interplay and it sounds so good. Why the rest of the disc is not more like this, I just do not understand.

Derek Walker