Jan Garbarek & Kjell Johnsen: Aftenland (ECM 1169)

ECM 1169 2


Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones, wood flute
Kjell Johnsen pipe organ
Recorded December 1979 at Engelbrektskyrkan, Stockholm
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If improvisation is a form of meditation, then meditation is also a form of improvisation. In being at peace with what one plays, one lives it.

Jan Garbarek is, of course, one of ECM’s longest standing composers and saxophonists, yet he is first and foremost a spectacular improviser who often manages to reach farther than (I imagine) even his own expectations in touching new melodic concepts. Paired with the Spheres-like church organ of Kjell Johnsen, he plumbs the depths of spiritual and physical awareness in a way that few of his albums have since. Here more than anywhere else, he shapes reverberation into its own spiritualism, exploring every curve of his surrounding architecture, every carved piece of wood and masonry.

The title track opens with a viscous solemnity, ever in shadow, while “Syn” reaps even more intense crops from the ethereal harvest it has sown. A trio of miniatures clustered around the session’s center reaches even more intimately into its heartbeat. “Kilden” seems to drip from the chapel ceiling like a weeping fresco. Garbarek unveils the rare recorders for a more playful exchange in “Spill.” “Iskirken” grips the heart with its piercing keen, dividing cloud and rain with the light of grief that shines like no other in times of greatest darkness. Lastly, the hurdy-gurdy drone of “Tegn” strings a delicate safety net for Garbarek’s robust defenestration.

This album predates his later Officium project by fourteen years, but is in parts just as effective in its vaulted evocations of hidden chants and invisible voices. At times, it also reminds me of the Licht/Haino/Hamilton/MLW one-off, Gerry Miles, only with less turbulent folds.

This is a pensive album, an unsung classic in the Garbarek oeuvre, filled with more than enough revelations to lodge a place in your musical heart.

<< Reich: Octet / Music for a Large Ensemble / Violin Phase (ECM 1168 NS)
>> Haden/Garbarek/Gismonti: Folk Songs (ECM 1170)

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