Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Remember me, my dear (ECM New Series 2625)

2625 X

Jan Garbarek
The Hilliard Ensemble
Remember me, my dear

The Hilliard Ensemble
David James
Rogers Covey-Crump tenor
Steven Harrold tenor
Gordon Jones baritone
Jan Garbarek soprano saxophone
Concert recording, October 2014
Chiesa della Collegiata dei SS. Pietro e Stefano,
Bellinzona (Switzerland)
In the series “Tra jazz e nuove musiche”
by Paolo Keller for RSI Rete Due
Tonmeister: Michael Rast
Engineer: Lara Persia
Mixed at Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
by Manfred Eicher and Michael Rast
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 18, 2019

When the Hilliard Ensemble and saxophonist Jan Garbarek first recorded for ECM in 1993, they opened as many—if not more—forces than they joined. It was a collaboration not only between each other, but also between them and engineer Peter Laenger, the Austrian monastery of St. Gerold, and producer Manfred Eicher, whose vision was so attuned to the possibility of it all that he would seem to have heard it in his head before those five breaths intertwined in reality. Twenty-five years after the release of their self-titled debut, the Officium project resurfaces with this document of their final performance in 2014.

The roots of this program’s oldest branches may be traced to the soil of past albums. In the opening “Ov zarmanali,” a hymn of Christ’s baptism by Komitas that was likewise our doorway into Officium Novum, Garbarek’s keening soprano is unmistakable in shape and color. In this setting he plays with the decay of notes, sharing more with sitar virtuosos than other reed players and taking into account every incidental effect as physical material for expression. It is the Hilliards, then, who enter into his delineation—not the other way around—and who plow a field just as ancient in preparation of a hybrid crop unlike any other. This progression is reversed in “Procurans odium,” one among a handful of anonymous medieval pieces that finds its seeds, split with time, restored in the nourishment of resuscitation. Garbarek’s role is nevertheless fully dimensional, drawing out from within rather than applying from without. Other unattributable turns, such as the wondrously ambient “Procedentum sponsum” and more lilting “Dostoino est,” speak to the power of memory. And in the “Sanctus,” not heard since their debut, we find a folding inward rather than expansion of concept.

Beyond the category of performer, Garbarek’s contributions fall under composer and arranger, finding solace all the same in this sanctuary. In the latter vein is “Allting finns,” wherein his exploratory nature is particularly evident, as one can feel Garbarek roaming the church in search of stone and warmth, while his setting of the Passamaquoddy poem “We are the stars” draws an unbreakable thread from one corner of the earth to another, likewise itinerant in spirit.

From the liturgical, as in the light-through-stained-glass effect of Nikolai N. Kedrov’s “Litany,” to the repentant shading of Guillaume le Rouge’s “Se je fayz deuil” (gazing back to Mnemosyne), the vocal nature of Garbarek’s saxophone and the reed-like qualities of the Hilliards have perhaps never been so dimensionally interchangeable. For even when the saxophone is absent, as in a most intimate rendition of Arvo Pärt’s “Most Holy Mother of God,” its soul lingers—a dream upon waking. The effect is such that, even when turning the brittle pages of more familiar material, like the “Alleluia nativitas” of Pérotin or the “O ignis spiritus” of Hildegard von Bingen, we are welcomed in the spirit of newness. And so, in the 16th-century Scottish folk song we find more than a title, but a poignant reminder that our minds are at once the tenderest and most robust vessels for honoring the past. For how can we not remember the impact this quintet has made on modern music, and the love with which listeners will continue to fill its crater for ages to come?

Jan Garbarek: Dansere (ECM 2146-48)


Jan Garbarek

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 (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 (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.


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?

Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden – In Concert (ECM 2100/01)


Jan Garbarek Group
Dresden – In Concert

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophone
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, keyboards
Yuri Daniel bass
Manu Katché drums
Recorded live October 20, 2007 at Alter Schlachthof, Dresden
Engineers: Gert Rickmann-Wunderlich and Rüdiger Nürnberg
Mixed by Jan Erik Kongshaug (engineer), Jan Garbarek, and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Jan Garbarek and Manfred Eicher

Dresden is monumental for being Jan Garbarek’s first live album. Monumental because, even as his crafted studio creations were capturing the hearts of countless listeners, so too were his performances across Europe and abroad. With his own group, the Norwegian saxophonist had crafted something special, and it was only a matter of time before its fire came through in the form of a less mitigated recording. Although it is unfortunate that Garbarek’s regular bassist, Eberhard Weber, was by this point too ill to join him on stage, he was formidably replaced by Yuri Daniel, interlocking with pianist Rainer Brüninghaus and drummer Manu Katché as if he’d always been among them.

With such an inventory of songs and experience from which to choose, Garbarek might have started in any number of places, but opens this concert with the lovely, free-flowing gem “Paper Nut.” First heard on Song for Everyone, one of two ECM collaborations with Indian violinist L. Shankar, it moves with all the synergy and assurance the present quartet has to offer. In addition to the unforgettable melody, sure to find a place in you the first time you hear it, it showcases some of Garbarek’s purest intonation on record. Clarion and unfalteringly naked, it cuts veins of mineral through the bedrock of jazz into the primal core beyond it.

The next point of reference is 1993’s Twelve Moons, from which the group renews three tunes: “The Tall Tear Trees,” “There Were Swallows,” and “Twelve Moons.” In each, the musicians interlock as listeners as much as players, Daniel’s bass laddering roots while Katché paints in a ritual filigree. The title tune is quintessential Garbarek, who finds himself lifted to new heights by Brüninghaus’s colorations as before riding an unaccompanied solo to finish. Legend of the Seven Dreams, from 1988, also gets a nod with the smoothly executed “Voy Cantando.”

The handful of new material introduced in this double-disc album is cause for celebration. From the forested pianism of “Heitor” to the beat-driven flights of “Nu Bein” (featuring Garbarek on the seljefløyte, or Norwegian overtone flute), there’s much to savor from everyone. Among these tunes is “The Reluctant Saxophonist,” which despite its tongue-in-cheek title (Garbarek’s playing is anything but reluctant) attains the most ambitious heights of the concert.

Non-Garbarek tunes include the pastoral “Rondo Amoroso,” arranged from the piece by Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud (1897-1992), and “Milagre Dos Peixes” (Miracle of the Fishes), written by Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento and made famous by Wayne Shorter. Brüninghaus is again outstanding, pushing Garbarek to stronger depths, as also in “Transformations,” one of two remarkable solo interludes that rounds out the set. The other is “Tao,” Daniel’s moment in the sun. Balancing technical flourish with emotional flexibility, it proves him a worthy successor to the Weber legacy.

Dresden is, quite simply, the kind of album that makes one feel good to be alive. A classic before it was even recorded.

Jan Garbarek: In Praise of Dreams (ECM 1880)

In Praise of Dreams

Jan Garbarek
In Praise of Dreams

Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones and/or synthesizers, samplers, percussion
Kim Kashkashian viola
Manu Katché drums
Recorded March and June 2003 at Blue Jay Recording Studio, Carlisle, MA (Engineer: James Farber), A.P.C. Studio, Paris (Engineer: Didier Léglise), and in Oslo
Edited, mixed, and completed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo, by Jan Garbarek, Manfred Eicher, and Jan Erik Kongshaug (Engineer)
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Jan Garbarek

By the release of In Praise of Dreams, six years had elapsed since Jan Garbarek’s RITES. Where that earlier album was something of a meta-statement for the Norwegian saxophonist-composer, here we get a comforting regression into terrains that are familiar, if drawn with new pigments. Of those pigments, violist Kim Kashkashian is perhaps most striking. More than her tangential associations with composers Eleni Karaindrou and Tigran Mansurian, it is her richness and depth of feeling that make Kashkashian such an intuitive musical partner for Garbarek. Drummer Manu Katché, aside from notable appearances on earlier Garbarek albums (including his definitive Visible World), pours a sensitivity all his own into the mix. Indeed, sensitivity is name of the game throughout this meticulous album, which bows to improvisatory freedoms at select moments of abandon.

Usual Garbarek elements abound: the graceful tone of his horn, a tasteful array of electronics and keyboards, and a feeling of dance turned into song. Yet what makes Praise so worthy of just that is its melodic integrity. Every tune finds its own burrow, where it dreams comfortably of life on a different plain. Between opener“As seen from above,” which overlays tender reed lines over a groundswell of piano and sampled drum riffs, and the concluding “A tale begun,” the latter a congregation of breath and bow that extends one of the most beautiful roots into ECM’s soil, a sense of oneness with nature prevails. The ensuing dramaturgy keeps us ever in sight of Garbarek’s shadow, racing across the ground in birdlike shape toward some illusion of stillness.

Along the way, the listener is treated to a veritable storybook of textures. Kashkashian’s ebony qualities work most cinematically in “One goes there alone” and in the title track. Pulsing beats connect feet to earth as lines of deference are exchanged above. Garbarek melodizes freely with eyes closed, prepared for whatever light or dark may come, while Kashkashian shuffles tension and release with likeminded ease. In this regard, “Knot of place and time” is an emblematic title, marking as it does the spatiotemporal crossroads at which stands so much of Garbarek’s writing, a spirit that needs the translation of recording to make its landscapes seem real.

Sometimes, those landscapes are arid. Long untouched by sole or palm, they nevertheless shine with immediacy. Across them Kashkashian provides the regular curlicues of wind through which Garbarek threads his cries. “Cloud of unknowing,” for one, rests on a harp-like arpeggio and splits unison lines into separate journeys, each spurred by a delicate percussive undercurrent through the dunes into unexpected waters. Other times, as in “Iceburn,” the conditions are wintry, beginning fragmented but arriving at the same crystalline ever after. In these caverns the piano becomes a relic, memory of a time that is no longer with us. Like the carousel of “Scene from afar” and the lyrical train ride into which it morphs, it’s all in the mind.

These are but some of the highlights of a trajectory, flowing from horizon to horizon in a jet stream fully shrouded with intention, that is nothing without the listener’s own secrets. As yet unwritten, they stand in the exact center of a suspension bridge that could bend either way. Take the first step, and see where the next will take you.

Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum (ECM New Series 2125)

Officium Novum

Officium Novum

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
The Hilliard Ensemble
David James countertenor
Rogers Covey-Crump tenor
Steven Harrold tenor
Gordon Jones baritone
Recorded June 2009 at Propstei St. Gerold
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves 

a little farther,
let us rise a little higher.
–Giorgos Seferis

Sometimes music bypasses all other faculties and journeys straight into our souls. It eschews intellectual games, removes the safety net from beneath critical acrobats, and seeks no justification for its effects. To say that Officium Novum is just such music would be as gross an understatement as is likely to drop from my brain. The achievements of the Hilliard Ensemble and saxophonist Jan Garbarek on this album’s predecessors, Officium and Mnemosyne, hardly need emphasis. They were nothing short of astonishing, blending presumably incongruous signatures in a sound of unparalleled parallels. Yet this third effort from the project stands out for its distinct separation of voices as it leads our ears and hearts more toward Eastern Europe, and farther to Armenia.

Hilliards Garbarek

In the latter vein, the multifaceted folk and liturgical arrangements of Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935)—whose music has elsewhere fallen within ECM’s purview on Kim Kashkashian’s Hayren—form the album’s central nervous system, although nowhere more so than in “Ov zarmanali,” a baptismal hymn that with Garbarek’s solo introduction marks the aforementioned separation as a running theme from first blush. In the rasp of his reed breathes a memory of nature, so that the Hilliards’ entrance spins a fantasy that can never gain traction in the here and now, confined as it is to wandering the past like a prisoner in his cell. Nevertheless, sanctity reigns, as prophesied by the third-century Byzantine chant, “Svjete tihij” (Gladsome light), which sacrifices its luminescence as it is sliced by the barred window. Its vocal blood later warms the body of Arvo Pärt’s “Most Holy Mother of God,” written for the Hilliards in 2003, thereby closing a divine circuit with its concluding dissonances.

Separations abound in other Komitas pieces as Garbarek carries the full chanting weight of “Surb, Surb” and skirts fields of dew in “Hays hark nviranats ukhti,” surpassed only once by countertenor David James in the “Sirt im sasani” (Hymn for Maundy Thursday). Like two wings joined to the same body, they are nominally separate but linked by thought, instinct, and action. Such notes of independence are implied also by the album’s cover photograph, which shows a lone outlier, back turned yet bridged to his fellows by light on the water. Even that reflection bears a horizontal rift of shadow: a cleft of nascent wave eating its way toward shore.

The lifeblood of Officium Novum courses through “Litany,” a three-chambered heart of Russian, Romanian, and anonymous sources. At its center is “Otche nash,” drawn from the Lipovan Old Believers tradition and sung alone by baritone Gordon Jones before Garbarek threads the backdrop of an anonymous “Dostoino est” in ways eerily similar to the first collaboration in 1993. Another anonymous relic, this of 16th century Spain, braces the architecture of “Tres morillas m’enamoran.” Heard on many a Renaissance record, the piece finds new life in the current rendering, seeming to reach for us from the future rather than out of the past. This is where the separations begin to soften, as Garbarek harmonizes more docilely at first before darting through and around the voices with bird-like grace. Breaths between verses lend a reflective, antiphonal quality, as they do also in Pérotin’s “Alleluia. Nativitas,” newly rendered since its appearance on Mnemosyne. It is joyous, almost incongruously so, among these monochromatic brethren, but gives a name to the light from which it fashions flesh for bone.

Two pieces by Jan Garbarek complete the musical share of the album. “Allting finns” (Everything there is) sets “Den döde” (The dead one), a poem by Swedish writer Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974), into beautiful interpretive metalwork, filigreed by the composer’s alchemy of paramusical elements, while “We are the stars” (based on a Native American poem of the Passamaquoddy people) is here transformed from its last appearance on RITES into a fully embodied soul, whose words and bare coherences constitute a fabric unto itself. Garbarek’s playing is so respectful that it walks on water and leads us to Bruno Ganz’s reading of “Nur ein Weniges noch” by Giorgos Seferis (1900-1971), which ends the program. Both narrator and poet are recurring touch-points in the ECM corpus. By their virtue, we are left with a vastly intersectional view of the (im)material world and a single takeaway message that resounds, May you be blessed to be found.

(To hear samples of Officium Novum, click here.)

Jan Garbarek: RITES (ECM 1685/86)


Jan Garbarek

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones, synthesizers, samplers and percussion
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, keyboard
Eberhard Weber bass
Marilyn Mazur drums, percussion
Jansug Kakhidze singer and conductor
Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra
Bugge Wesseltoft additional synthesizer and electronic effects, accordion
Recorded March 1998
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul,
for its journey through death.

RITES is without question Jan Garbarek’s magnum opus. If not for the simple fact that it spans one and a half hours over two discs, it mines the deepest ores in the saxophonist-composer’s already vast oeuvre and polishes them just enough to let their colors speak. Every melody is a new stratum, a vein in the rock with a story to tell. The initiation begins with the cinematic title track. Accented by a light dusting of field recordings (taken during Garbarek’s travels in India), it follows a deep bass pulse and warm synths along an aerial view of mountainous terrain…barren, misty, and free. An eagle traverses these plains, the one who has seen it all: from ocean through volcanic eruption to solidification, from inhabitation through migration to desertion. Garbarek’s soprano peals like the lone survivor calling out to that eagle. The call goes unheeded. The eagle carries on, carrying nothing. In desperation, the survivor resigns himself to what must be and what never can. “Where the rivers meet” unspools his wayfaring in reverse, the last hopeful stage of a trek that brought him into the clearing. Like salmon leaping from the water, motives catch a glint of sun before they splash back into river’s flow. In that turgid reflection struggles the natural scope of “Vast plain, clouds,” where bassist Eberhard Weber leaves only the shadows of seedlings by way of drooping, willowed lines.

Garbarek flips back through the pages to his past with a haunting rendition of his quintessential “It’s OK to listen to the gray voice.” Its brushed cymbals and bubbling pianism invite us to look at our own lives anew. Keyboardist Rainer Brüninghaus provides epic touches to “So mild the wind, so meek the water” and “Her wild ways,” both of which give insight into the survivor’s maturation, while “It’s high time” brings us into the night of revelry that embraced his conception, further to the seat of his ancestry. The youthful candor of his discoveries, the newness of his faith, surprises one whose soles still bleed from the long journeys. And so, he bids, “Song, tread lightly,” cradling his own birth in a night vision.

The second disc thus replaces the survivor with a diary of things intangible. Here we come to know the profundity of joy. The memorable balance of “One Ying for every Yang” posits Garbarek and Weber against a shifting synth backdrop of liquid texture, while “Pan” and “Evenly they danced” enable likeminded playfulness. “Malinye” (written by, and offered in memory of, Don Cherry) is a distant carnival, an atmosphere emphasized in “The white clown,” which works its twisted spell in service of a childhood dream.

Two notable cameos come to us in the form of “We are the stars,” featuring the Norwegian youth choir Sølvguttene in a setting of a Passamaquoddy (Native American) poem, and another setting of Galaktion Tabidze’s “The moon over Mtatsminda” by Georgian composer Jansug Kakhidze. A tireless advocate of Giya Kancheli’s music, Kakhidze offers voice and baton in kind, conducting the Tblisi Symphony Orchestra in a heartrending song that hangs on a silver thread. This song is a rite unto itself, a window into cultural understandings that weave themselves into tapestries of experience until one day a tug sets off their colors just so. In light of this, “Last rite” rings prophetically. Though essentially a reprisal of the opening track, it elides the reed. With the survivor’s call now gone, we are left with a choice: implore the passing eagles in our lives for assistance or move on until we find what awaits us.

London Jazz Festival

Here is a wonderful write-up by one of my favorite bloggers, Diana J. Hale, about the 2012 London Jazz Festival, which included a strong Nordic representation of ECM artists. While you’re there, be sure to peruse her ongoing series of beautiful watercolors.


Garbarek/Gismonti/Haden: Magico – Carta de Amor (ECM 2280/81)

Magico – Carta de Amor

Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Egberto Gismonti guitars, piano
Charlie Haden double-bass
Recorded live April 1981, Amerika Haus, München
Recording engineer: Martin Wieland, Tonstudio Bauer
Mixed 2011 at Rainbow Studio by Jan Erik Konghaug and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“I know that the stars when I vanish will remain pegged way up there, fixed, immutable, gazing on the absurd hustle and bustle of men, small and ridiculous, striving with each other during the sole second of life allotted them to learn and to know about themselves, wasting it stupidly, killing one another, the ones fighting to avert exploitation by the others.”
–Dolores Ibárruri

2012 has seen quite the magic act of releases from ECM’s archives. The encore comes literally so in the case of Magico: Carta de Amor, as the trio of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti, and bassist Charlie Haden takes the stage in newly restored 1981 performances at Munich’s Amerika Haus, host to such classic recordings as Ralph Towner’s Solo Concert and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Urban Bushmen. From their studio work, these three mavericks draw a distinct blend of signatures, while from the two years spent touring prior to this recording they accomplish feats of improvisation that perhaps no studio could have induced or contained.

Bookended by two versions of Gismonti’s title track, a beautiful love letter indeed to the wonders within, Haden’s 16.5-minute tribute to Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionaria,” lends substance to the feathers in between. The entrance of bass is as effortless as it is invisible, dropping into the foreground as it does from the line of Garbarek’s ornamental reed. Changing his Liberation Music Orchestra clothing for something more romantic, Haden offers “All That Is Beautiful” (making its first appearance on record), an emotionally epic vehicle for Gismonti, who takes seat at the keyboard and sprinkles it with clouds and weighted dew.

If these are the tire tracks left behind, then “Cego Aderaldo” is the vehicle that left them. Driven by the 12 focused strings of its composer, it keeps us balanced along the album’s craggiest terrain. Here Garbarek does something wondrous as he opens the passenger-side door and jumps over the cliff, spreading burnished metal wings across a landscape that welcomes his flight with thermals galore. Gismonti continues on, spiraling up to the apex. There he plants not a flag of conquest, but seeds of thanksgiving. From the dulcet “Branquinho,” with its distant ideas of brotherhood, to the shining reprise of “Palhaço,” his fulfilling melodies bring out the playful best in Garbarek. If there were ever any doubts about the group’s unity, let “Don Quixote” stand as Exhibit A toward quelling them. Like the novel for which it is named, it is a critique of belittlement and insincerity in a society gone mad. It moves at the leisurely pace of a mule whose grandeur resides not without but within.

Garbarek gives us a triangle of stars, including folk song arrangements that whistle through dynamic peaks and valleys and a fully opened rendition of “Spor” (compare this to its infancy in the studio on Magico). To this mysterious canvas, Garbarek applies shadow on shadow, seeking out wounds of color in the language of his band mates before diving into repose.

(Photos by Ralph Quinke)

While the unity expressed by these musicians is surely enthralling, it comes closest to perfection in the monologues. Garbarek’s energy is, if I may appropriate a Douglas Hofstadter subtitle, an eternal golden braid—one that nourishes itself on the light of which it is made, self-replicating and beyond the measure of value. Haden unfolds themes fractally. Trundling through empty streets with dog-eared book in hand and love in its margins, he brings closure to uprisings of the heart. Gismonti, for his part, is as breath is to lungs.

Let their individuality inspire you to action.

(To hear samples from Carta de Amor, click here.)

Jan Garbarek: Visible World (ECM 1585)

Jan Garbarek
Visible World

Jan Garbarek soprano & tenor saxophone, keyboards, percussion
Rainer Brüninghaus piano, synthesizer
Eberhard Weber bass
Marilyn Mazur percussion, drums
Manu Katché drums
Trilok Gurtu tabla
Mari Boine vocals
Recorded June 1995 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As one who started out with ECM’s New Series and only years later began branching out into ECM proper, how can I ever forget my first parent label experience: Visible World. Having heard Jan Garbarek only on Officium, I was curious to see what the saxophonist had to offer and was lucky enough to spot this disc in a used CD bin. The cover photograph pulled me in…yet how much more so when I pressed PLAY and let the waterwheel flow of “Red Wind” wash over me. Here was an artist, I now knew, who felt the deserts in the rains and vice versa, one who turned every lilting ornament into a ritual gesture. From the quiet strength of his themes and non-invasive synthesizer touches to the feathered synergy of his band mates, songs like “The Creek” gifted experiences from another life. And songs is exactly what these are, for in their precious adlibbing form crystals of hope, catching the drum-shocked catharsis of “The Survivor” on bassist Eberhard Weber’s thrumming comet tails like sunbeams in a prism. While Garbarek’s tribalism may ring a touch ingenuous to some folks, the maps of his travels come cased in loving care, so that no creases ever turn into tears. Take, for instance, the vivid skin Garbarek stretches over the skeleton of “The Healing Smoke.” By turns robust and willowy, it never backs down from its convictions, lays them bare for our scrutiny, if not also for the blindness of our souls. Pianist Rainer Brüninghaus makes a welcome return to the Garbarek fold, bringing his trademark touch to journeys over three “Desolate Mountains” and the moving portrait of one “Giulietta,” even as percussionists Marilyn Mazur and Manu Katché lay runes along the way. The cinematic bliss of the two-part title track, one scuro to the other’s chiaro, reminds us that much of the music featured on Visible World was written for video or film. Other moving pictures include a gorgeous, I daresay funky, rendition of “Pygmy Lullaby” (which I, like many I’m sure, first encountered through Deep Forest’s classic unearthing) and “The Arrow,” an evocative landscape of melodic steles and natural wonder. Yet all of this is just the smoke to the fire of “Evening Land.” Said saga of sound and sentiment blows like the exhalations of feature vocalist Mari Boine, who pulls up the calls leading up to this point on threads spun from Garbarek’s crescent-moon commentary, culminating in a seesawing of chords around which tumble the children of tomorrow.

This is the quintessential Garbarek album, the perfect synthesis of everything he and producer Manfred Eicher ever set out to achieve together from the start. Being the sculptors that they are, both artists saw the finished form in the slab, leaving us with a masterpiece we would never have known without their intervention.