Release date: April 1, 1984
The “Works” series of ECM compilations began in 1984 to celebrate the label’s 15th anniversary, as it prepared to open a new chapter with its classically focused New Series imprint later that same year. It makes sense that Norwegian saxophonist and composer Jan Garbarek should be the subject of this first installment, as he defined not only the sound of ECM throughout the 1970s but also of a jazz scene that was relatively unknown outside its own borders until producer Manfred Eicher committed himself to the vision of broadening its wingspan.
Garbarek has taken on many roles throughout ECM’s now 50-year history, and even at this early stage had defined some key faces of his creative persona. In “Folk Song,” from 1981’s Folk Songs with guitarist Egberto Gismonti and bassist Charlie Haden, we find ourselves in the company of Garbarek the griot. With a telepathy as powerful as that of remembrance, the trio’s music transports us into ourselves. If Haden and Gismonti are shadow and light, respectively, then Garbarek is the one who wanders the valley between them, drawing a horizon wherever the sky will hold pigment. This is the spirit of Garbarek’s playing at all times: an itinerant yet grounded soul who understands the way of things to be carved in experience.
We also encounter Garbarek the sailor. In “Passing” (Places, 1978), he shares a vessel with John Taylor on organ, Bill Connors on guitar, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. With circadian rhythms and steady passage, marked like a fishing net by Connors’s acoustic wisdom, the quartet catches wind purposefully forward. And in “Svevende” (Dansere, 1976), inhaling brine and waves with Bobo Stenson on piano, Palle Danielsson on bass, and Jon Christensen on drums, Garbarek evokes sirens of both the mythical and preventative kind. Another track from Dansere, “Skrik & Hyl,” reveals a shepherd, now climbing a mountain with Danielsson alone. Sounding a call to the ether itself, Garbarek tends to his melodic flock without fear. Responding to said call are Terje Rypdal on guitar, Arild Andersen on bass, and Christensen again on drums in “Beast Of Kommodo” (Afric Pepperbird, 1970). This early build, from ECM’s seventh release, features guttural expression in a tactile setting. And in “Viddene” (Dis, 1977), his soprano meshing with the 12-string guitar of Ralph Towner over a windharp drone, he jumps from the cliff as one who looks down upon landscapes instead of up from them.
Finally, Garbarek the mystic welcomes us into internal spaces. In “Selje” (Triptykon, 1973), he turns to flute in the presence of Andersen, along with Edward Vesala on percussion, for an incantation of light. And in “Snipp, Snapp, Snute” (Eventyr, 1981), his flute is joined by Nana Vasconcelos on percussion, moving with the tide of biographical change.
Throughout these tunes, and regardless of focus, Garbarek activates thoughts of ancestors in the most undeniable terms: through sound. Vibrations thus activate us at the very core, stirring molecules of the heart with messages and songs. And while most compilers might use individual tracks to tell a larger story, Eicher has put together this sequence to show how that larger story feeds the individual.