Jan Garbarek Group: Photo With… (ECM 1135)

 

Jan Garbarek Group
Photo With…

Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Bill Connors guitar
John Taylor piano
Eberhard Weber bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded December 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Now they are resting
in the fleckless light
separately in unison

like the sacks
of sifted stone stacked
regularly by twos

about the flat roof
ready after lunch
to be opened and strewn

–William Carlos Williams, “Fine Work with Pitch and Copper”

From the flowing introductory licks to the final exhalation that snaps this sonic locket shut, one look at the track listing of this debut nominal album from the Jan Garbarek Group can’t help but remind us of William Carlos Williams. The full title—Photo With Blue Sky, White Cloud, Wires, Windows And A Red Roof—is a Williams verse in itself, each element drawn from the cover photo into a sonic description thereof. Together they form a concept album in the deepest sense, the anatomy of which is known before the music even graces our ears. Garbarek is as incisive as the words, each the tooth of a widening grin.

Melody and circumstance cohabitate the sonorous waves that issue from every new turn that awaits us, and all in a language that is mellifluous, filled with open spaces, and drenched in Garbarek’s sunlit tone. The airy piano stylings of John Taylor and ever-moving bass of Eberhard Weber, not to mention outstanding contributions from guitarist Bill Connor and the omniscient Jon Christensen on drums, make for a most soluble palette. Even in such a pool of bases, Garbarek’s thematic bite loses none of its acidity. His is an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of worldly-wise meditations and humble commentary.

Each piece breaks a piece from the longer title and rolls it out into a photo in its own right. “White Cloud” works its way from the inside out, laying the tender kindling of a solo piano before being set aglow by Garbarek’s deep smolder. Slowly but surely, drums, bass, and electric guitar weave their way into this dreamlike fabric, cinched by soothing legato threads. We keep our eyes on the cover as its “Windows” are hung with lilting harmonies between Garbarek and Taylor. An acoustic guitar speculates through its translucent frame, enhancing Connors’s understated brilliance all the more. “Red Roof” finds Garbarek in a more pentatonic mode in his soaring reverberant passages, while “Wires” gives us a more animated, earthbound concept in which to contemplate the patterns of our psychic dentition. This track is composed not of melodies, but of wing beats tickling the edges of our brains with promises of light, and all the more soothing for its lack of vivid rhythmic separation. Every fragment falls into place in “The Picture,” which sprouts from the piano’s chromatic seeds into a small yet lush garden of life. Garbarek paints delicate images in the snatches of sky afforded to us while Weber’s bass navigates the soil below with the silent knowledge of an earthworm, closing in a gorgeous crepuscular fade.

Photo With… is far more than the “high-quality background music” it has been accused of being elsewhere. It was a finely polished stepping stone for the Norwegian saxophonist and composer, who with its ripples forged a distinct sonic shoreline that we continue to imprint every time we put our ears to its surface.

One thought on “Jan Garbarek Group: Photo With… (ECM 1135)

  1. Col suo sassofono algido e regale, Jan Garbarek ha contribuito a definire il codice espressivo dell’ECM, diventandone poi alfiere indiscusso. I suoi assoli solenni rapiscono l’ascoltatore evocando scene oniriche e atmosfere incantate. In una discografia ragguardevole per qualità e quantità, Places e Photo With … vantano un perfetto amalgama tra aderenza ai canoni estetici dell’etichetta tedesca e spazio concesso all’improvvisazione. Alle diverse sezioni ritmiche impiegate – il solo Jack DeJohnette (batteria) su Places, gli specialisti Eberhard Weber (contrabbasso elettrico) e Jon Christensen (batteria) su Photo With … – il leader affianca due fuoriclasse presenti a entrambe le sedute: il californiano Bill Connors (chitarra), di cui alcuni collezionisti ricorderanno i tre splendidi album incisi a Oslo (Theme To The Gaurdian; Of Mist And Melting; Swimming With A Hole In My Body), solista capace di un fraseggio fluido, legato, elegantissimo, e l’inglese John Taylor (pianoforte / organo), raffinato artigiano delle tastiere. In una sequenza di brani di alto valore e livello omogeneo, le differenze sostanziali tra gli arrangiamenti in quartetto e quintetto risiedono nella trama strumentale ottenuta con organo e chitarra acustica per Places, laddove su Photo With … la prima linea è condotta da sax (tenore / soprano), piano e 6 corde elettrica. Se Garbarek è al culmine della sua fase creativa, perfettamente in bilico tra echi coltraniani e suggestioni scandinave, Connors si muove con originalità lungo coordinate allora percorse anche da più illustri colleghi di scuderia.

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