Jan Garbarek: Dansere (ECM 2146-48)

Dansere

Jan Garbarek
Dansere

The Dansere box continues ECM’s Old & New Masters series with four landmark achievements, the first three being the albums gathered within its matte packaging and the fourth being producer Manfred Eicher’s decision to reissue them as a set. None of the musicians need introduction here, least of all Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who spearheads classic concoctions of extracts new and old. These early albums were key developments in the sounds of the musicians and a label with the wherewithal to pave their launching pad into the stratosphere of music history.

Garbarek is said to have forged Norwegian jazz from diverse elements of his homeland, but something elemental in the very earth must also have forged his endlessly creative mind as a receptor to those elements. His career has of course splintered in so many directions since then, but a genuine commitment to the music has remained constant in everything he plays and is only magnified by the company he has chosen to keep.

Sart

Sart (ECM 1015)

Jan Garbarek tenor and bass saxophones, flute
Bobo Stenson piano, electric piano
Terje Rypdal guitar
Arild Andersen bass
Jon Christensen percussion
Recorded on April 14/15, 1971, at the Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

One could hardly ask for a more dynamic super group than that assembled on Sart. Garbarek’s first album of this boxed set is also his second for ECM and throbs with these young musicians’ intense desire to lay down new paths. Four of the album’s six compositions are by Garbarek. The first of these is the title cut, which takes up more than one third of the album’s total length. After an eclectic swirl of wah-pedaled guitar riffs from Terje Rypdal, Bobo Stenson’s sweeping pianism, the fluttering drums of Jon Christensen, and erratic bass lines of Arild Andersen, Garbarek’s entrance alerts us with all the import of an emergency siren. It’s an arresting beginning to an arresting album, evoking at one moment a 70s action film soundtrack and the next a clandestinely recorded late-night jam session. “Fountain Of Tears ­ Parts I & II” forges a harsher sound before swapping reed for flute. With the support of Stenson’s electric piano, Garbarek slathers on the sonority for a striking change of atmosphere. In “Song Of Space,” sax and guitar double one another almost mockingly before Rypdal hops a more intense train of thought, in the process mapping the album’s most epic terrain. Garbarek is only too happy to lend his compass. “Irr” turns Andersen’s nimble opening statement into a full-fledged narrative, along with some enjoyable adlibbing from Garbarek and Stenson. Andersen and Rypdal round out the set with respective tunes of their own. “Close Enough For Jazz” is a brief interlude for bass and reed full of unrequited desire, while “Lontano” finishes with Rypdal’s meditative, twang-ridden charm.

More expressive than melodic, per se, this is engaging free jazz that’s constantly looking for debate. Such is the sense of play through which it thrives. At times the music is so spread out that one has difficulty knowing if and when a “solo” even occurs. Regardless, Garbarek’s playing is knotted, but also carefully thought out. As in so much of his output during this period, he tends toward a sobbing, wailing quality that adds gravity to relatively airy backdrops. This is music with patience that demands just as much from the listener. It lives on the edge of its own demise, always managing to muster one final declaration before it expires.

Witchi-Tai-To

Witchi-Tai-To (ECM 1041)

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Bobo Stenson piano
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded November 27/28, 1973 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Regarding jazz, Louis Armstrong once famously quipped: “Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.” For those still feeling lost, let Witchi-Tai-To provide one possible answer. As Jan Garbarek’s oft-touted masterpiece, this is not an album to shake a stick at. If anything, it is one to be shaken by.

Carla Bley’s “A.I.R.” (All India Radio) summons this classic soundscape with a ceremonial thumping of bass, working toward saxophonic flights of fancy. Before long, Garbarek descends from his cloud with a pentatonic flavor before again riding the thermals of his generative spirit. This segues into a rousing piano exposition from Stenson, running with the adamancy of a child who thinks he can fly. The avian soprano sax returns as if to espouse the wonders of the air while also warning of its hidden hazards, catapulting itself into the vanishing point. “Kukka,” by bassist Palle Danielsson, is a relatively somber, though no less effective, conversation. It gives ample room for piano and bass alike to make their voices known and ends with another ascendant line of reed. Carlos Puebla’s politically charged “Hasta Siempre” seethes like radical folk music in search of an outlet. Drums and piano enable a boisterous towering of improvisatory bliss. Garbarek is a wonder, grinding out the most soulful sound he can muster, while Stenson’s frolicking runs practically stumble over their own momentum. In the title track by Jim Pepper, the rhythm section’s windup pitches more soulful solos from Garbarek, who can do no wrong here. His clarity of tone and conviction are sonically visionary and ideally suited to his cadre of fellow soundsmiths. Last but not least is “Desireless.” This Don Cherry tune is given a 20-minute treatment that surpasses all expectations. It’s a mournful closer, a song of parting, an unrequited wish. It tries to hold on to a rope that is slipping through its fingers, even as it struggles with all the strength at its disposal to keep the music alive. Garbarek refuses to go down without an incendiary swan song, however, and by the end it is all we have left.

Much has been said in praise of the Danielsson/Christensen support in this outfit, and one would be hard-pressed not to feel the intense drive the duo invokes at almost every moment. To be sure, this is a team of musicians whose independent visions work flawlessly together, and whose end result is an essential specimen in any jazz collection. Witchi-Tai-To is a struggle against time from which time emerges victorious. Thankfully, we can always start the record over again.

dansere1

Dansere (ECM 1075)

Jan Garbarek saxophones
Bobo Stenson piano
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded November 1975 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

There is a tendency in ECM’s formative jazz releases toward immersive beginnings. Dansere is no exception, with its introductory flutter of sax and glittering piano runs. Comparing this album to Belonging, which features Keith Jarrett in the same company as Bobo Stenson is here, it’s amazing to consider the differences with another pianist at the fulcrum. One musician’s worth of difference may not seem like much on the back of an album jacket, but here it translates into essentially ten new voices with their own sensibility of time and space. Stenson’s abstractions throughout bleed into the listener’s mind like a smearing of watercolor across absorbent paper.

This is music that has woken up after a long slumber—so long, in fact, that now it struggles to face the morning glare. The musicians seem to play with their eyes closed, grasping at fading tendrils of memory so close in dreamtime yet otherwise so distant. Whereas some of us might grab a note pad and try to capture as many of those fleeting moments before they escape us upon waking, each member of this quartet finds an instrument and sets his recollections to music. The album finds the time to stretch its vocal cords, to take in the air, to look outside and judge the weather from the clouds and the moisture it inhales.

The title track is the most demanding journey here, carrying us through a gallery of moods and locales, and fades out beautifully with Christensen’s rim shot clicking like a metronome into the heavy silence. In “Svevende” Stenson emotes a laid-back aesthetic, finding joy in quieter moments. Though we are by now fully awake, we still find ourselves regressing to the darkness of sleep and its promise of vision. Every moment leaves its own echo, so that each new note carries with it a remnant of all those it has left behind. “Bris” picks up the pace a little and showcases Garbarek in a heptatonic mode. Stenson also has some memorable soloing here, working wonderfully against Christensen’s drums and Danielsson’s steady thump. Somehow the motives remain melancholy, speaking as they do in languages they have yet to understand. “Skrik & Hyl” features a sax/bass duet of piercing incantations before Stenson brings us back down to terra firma in “Lokk.” The title here means “herding song” and feels like a call home. It unfolds like the dotted plain on the album’s cover, a desert under a hanging moon or an ocean swept by a lighthouse. “Til Vennene” is the end of a long and fruitful day. Yet in spite of the album’s pastoral flair, I find this final track to be rather urban. It shifts and settles like a drained glass of scotch, leaving only that diluted rim of sepia at the bottom: a mixture of melted ice and solitude. You feel just a little tipsy, straggling home through the rainy streets. Memory and sorrow swirl without blending, like every rainbow-filmed puddle you pass in gutters and potholes. You wander as if you are walking these streets for the first time, knowing that your legs will get you home regardless of your inebriation. Your only footholds are those brief moments of bliss shared among friends; the only times when trust was never absent. Your world becomes blurry…or is it you who blurs?

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2 thoughts on “Jan Garbarek: Dansere (ECM 2146-48)

  1. These reviews, going back to the early years of Jan Garbarek and Bobo Stenson and Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen and, by extension, the early years of ECM, are fascinating.

    I believe the journey to this music began in New York in the mid-late 1940s when George Russell, a largely unknown drummer and pianist and part of a New York clique which included Gil Evans, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker among others, devised the Lydian Chromatic Concept.

    It was an early collaboration between Russell and the classically trained pianist Bill Evans which began around 1955 that eventually created a massive impact. Concerto For Billy The Kid written by Russell in 1956 and played by the still unknown Evans (the Billy of the music) with Russell’s sextet, was perhaps the first major work based on Russell’s modal theories. Peace Piece, a classic example of Bill Evan’s modal composition, and heavily influenced by his fascination with French impressionistic classical music of Ravel, Debussy, Faure, Satie and Messiaen, was released in 1958.

    In another part of the puzzle, Miles Davis’ first collaboration with arranger Gil Evans was on the 1957 Miles Ahead but it was the 1958 Milestones when he first, and briefly, touched on modal music in the title track. In 1958 Davis recorded a Gil Evans’ arrangement of Porgy and Bess. In a 1958 interview for The Jazz Review, Davis wrote…
    “When Gil wrote the arrangement of ‘I Loves You, Porgy’, he only wrote a scale for me. No chords… gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things… there will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them. Classical composers have been writing this way for years, but jazz musicians seldom have.”

    The important next collaboration was when Miles Davis took on Bill Evans in 1958 and again in 1959 for the Kind Of Blue sessions when Evans (Bill not Gil) co-wrote Blue in Green and Flamenco Sketches – the latter beginning with a theme from Peace Piece. As mentioned above Davis had briefly touched on modal music in the 1958 Milestones but Kind Of Blue was entirely modal…
    “No chords…gives you a lot more freedom and space to hear things. When you go this way, you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes and you can do more with the [melody] line. It becomes a challenge to see how melodically innovative you can be. When you’re based on chords, you know at the end of 32 bars that the chords have run out and there’s nothing to do but repeat what you’ve just done—with variations. I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords… there will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them.” 1958 interview for The Jazz Review
    “Davis saw Russell’s methods of composition as a means of getting away from the dense chord-laden compositions of his time, which Davis had labelled ‘thick’. Modal composition, with its reliance on scales and modes, represented ‘a return to melody.’” Liner notes of Kind Of Blue

    The rest is history.

    Now let’s go back to George Russell because in 1964, he toured Europe and lived in Scandinavia. Through the late 60s and early 70s he played with, among others, Terje Rypdal, Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen and Bobo Stenson – essentially the artists who largely contributed to the beginning of ECM (I believe Manfred Eicher first met Garbarek in 1969 when he was playing in Russell’s band).
    It seems to me that Garbarek’s debut album, Esoteric Circle from 1969 (not on ECM), is very much in the American jazz mould and Garbarek is yet to find what became his distinctive sound; by 1973 on Witchi-Tai-To (his fifth album and fourth on ECM) he was well on the way and by his next album, 1975s Dansere, he, along with Bobo Stenson and others, had found an independence and his own voice.

    In my musical ignorance it seems to me that the idea of modal jazz was carried from the US to Norway by George Russell who found real adherents in the form of these wonderful musicians who have given such immense pleasure for so many years.

    1. Thank you so much for this fascinating genealogy, Chris. I can feel the depth of this journey very much in the European jazz that ECM has so lovingly documented. Proof that all things are connected.

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