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.

<< Pierre Favre: Window Steps (ECM 1584)
>> Egberto Gismonti: Meeting Point (ECM 1586)

Garbarek/Brahem/Hussain: Madar (ECM 1515)


Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Anouar Brahem oud
Ustad Shaukat Hussain tabla
Recorded August 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Following in the footsteps of Ragas and Sagas, which found Jan Garbarek in the seemingly unlikely company of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan to uplifting effect, the Norwegian saxophonist continued to expand his horizons with Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem and tablaist Ustad Shaukat Hussain on Madar. The three bond naturally in the lengthy “Sull lull,” a nearly 17-minute prayer of keen and sensible interaction for which Hussain brings constant airflow and foils Garbarek’s chameleonic talents superbly. It is one of two tracks based on folk melodies of Garbarek’s native land. The other is the saxophone/oud duet “Joron.” Madar serves in this vein as an internal conversation between the two instruments, their sounds speaking to one another like rocks from a river’s touch. Together they become a pair of hands etching stories into a stretch of hide, twisting incantations until they bleed light (“Sebika”) and dark (“Ramy”). As they continue to circle overhead, surveying a landscape of withering sin, they bring out something unknown in one another.

Despite the loveliness of these interactions, the album works best in solitary. Brahem’s contemplative solo, “Bahia,” treks over twilit mountains with aching footsteps, carrying us as if by palanquin into a vale of lost intentions. The wind of his percussiveness shakes the boughs of leafless trees and sends their dead seeds clicking to the ground like sand against a window. And in the rhythmic cast of “Jaw,” Hussain emotes lifetimes in a single beat of his tabla, thus offering some intensely lucid moments. He returns to the fold in “Qaws,” giving voice to those waiting eyes at last with solid excitement. An odd piano “Epilogue” (sounding like a chord outline for a studio track left behind) leads us out.

A word to the wise: Garbarek reaches some of his most piquant levels ever here, so intense that you may find yourself needing to lower the volume at peak moments. This may antagonize some, but in the end couldn’t we all do with a little awakening?

<< Bach: The French Suites (ECM 1513/14 NS)
>> Bobo Stenson Trio: Reflections (ECM 1516)

Miroslav Vitous/Jan Garbarek: Atmos (ECM 1475)

Miroslav Vitous

Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Recorded February 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

For me, Jan Garbarek excels in his more intimate and intensely collaborative settings, and this date with Miroslav Vitous makes for some fine synergy indeed. Vitous takes light steps, if with heavy intent, through the introductory “Pegasos.” Garbarek, meanwhile, is content in hanging his throaty songs from high rafters. Like its eponymous animal, this music and all that follows is a mythic blend of strength and finesse, joining feathery appendages to a robust body that soars wherever it may. “Goddess” treads more carefully and seems to regress even as it grows, achieving a balance of proportion between body and mind, transcending the plains even as it plants its feet to the earth’s core. Vitous elicits some lovely percussiveness here, drumming his bass to send Garbarek on a lyrical scouting journey. The rhythmic ruminations continue in “Forthcoming,” giving the saxophonist all the inspiration he needs to dig deep and pluck out the ponderous jewel that is the title track. Here we encounter some beautiful thoughts from soprano, threading the ever-growing loom of Vitous’s strings. A captivating track that takes a delicate swing of its melodic compass into a direction of utter stillness. Unfortunately, “Time Out” (Parts I and II) detracts from the album’s tender atmosphere. Its horn-blasted interjections are grossly out of place. In between them, however, is “Dirvision,” a heart-tugging solo from Vitous that precludes two meditative numbers to close.

All in all, despite a brief misstep, a fascinating and worthy excursion from two far-reaching talents. How fortuitous to have them both here, telling stories timeless and sincere.

<< Terje Rypdal: Q.E.D. (ECM 1474)
>> The Hilliard Ensemble: Walter Frye (ECM 1476 NS)

Garbarek/Vitous/Erskine: StAR (ECM 1444)



Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Miroslav Vitous double-bass
Peter Erskine drums
Recorded January 1991 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

StAR is yet another classic from a fertile period for Jan Garbarek. Clothed in some of Barbara Wojirsch’s most striking typography, it holds an intimate portrait of one of ECM’s profoundest artists. Characteristic trails fade in the title track like infant spiders’ webs as bassist Miroslav Vitous dances a solemn dance. Garbarek unlocks a doorway in the sky, where the only keyhole is a star, before teleporting back to earth to find his roots in “Jumper.” The scatting syncopation here draws us into a vocal world. “Lamenting” begins with a keen from Garbarek and Vitous filled with such beauty that every tear in its vision changes into hopeful light, sketched into life by Erskine’s pastel accents and Garbarek’s distinctly burnished tenor. From scintinllating beginnings, “Anthem” purrs with snare rolls from Erskine, backgrounding a celestial wash. “Roses For You” takes its first timid steps widely and innocently in the bass, Garbarek again showing unique sensitivity, born of attention and experience. He flips slowly through an album of love and loss in equal measure, cradling it in a hand smooth with youth and turning pages with fingers wrinkled with age. “Clouds In The Mountain” brings us to the album’s most spirited territory, fluttering like eyelashes into the sun’s glare. “Snowman,” on the other hand, is a dose of wintry whimsy, cracked like an egg by some mystical overdubbing. “The Music Of My People” ends with a lovely homage to the inspirations of a saxophonist who has done so much to expand the art from the sea into the fjords, and beyond.

<< Jan Garbarek: Ragas and Sagas (ECM 1442)
>> Jon Balke w/Oslo 13: Nonsentration (ECM 1445)

Jan Garbarek/Ustad Fateh Ali Khan & Musicians from Pakistan: Ragas and Sagas (ECM 1442)

Jan Garbarek
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan
Musicians from Pakistan
Ragas and Sagas

Ustad Fateh Ali Khan voice
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Ustad Shaukat Hussain tabla
Ustad Nazim Ali Khan sarangi
Deepika Thathaal voice
Manu Katché drums
Recorded May 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Jan Garbarek

With Ragas and Sagas, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek surely turned not a few heads by collaborating with legendary Pakistani vocalist Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (not to be confused with Nusrat). With attuned support from sarangi, backing vocals, tabla, and a fairly young Manu Katché, this album fulfills every promise it makes on the cover alone. The tremulous waters of “Raga I” are enough to prove this point. This utterly selfless meditation shapes the listener’s spirit by inhabiting it with lines spun from a higher power. The sarangi’s raw S-curves pair beautifully with Garbarek, who remains graceful and restrained, serving each moment as it comes. “Saga” brings the latter’s electronics to bear upon Khan’s vocal spreads. Unfortunately, their brilliance, hanging like a water droplet from a spider’s thread, is sometimes drowned out by that powerful tenor. This is only a minor quibble in the face of the album’s constant wonders. In any case, any such imbalances are immediately rectified in “Raga II.” Pulling a percussive vocal thread from the floating sarangi, this lovely journey imparts equal weight (if not lightness) to every musician, though the voice of Deepika Thathaal as it weaves in and out of view is notable for its counterpoint to Garbarek’s ethereal adlibbing. Khan’s ululations are indescribably beautiful and are sure to transport you to places unknown yet comforting. “Raga III” is another well-unified piece, showing Garbarek’s chameleonic abilities in full swing, while “Raga IV” kicks up the dust to dizzying spiritual heights.

Ustad Fateh Ali Khan is a treasure, and this appearance, as ECM listeners have come to expect, is a carefully calculated one. Gone are the tired clichés and empty synergies of other such projects. This album also represents yet another evolution in Garbarek’s tonal biology, and is one of the finest examples of “world fusion” you are likely to come across, leaving us with a mind meld of sweeping proportions. Purists from any angle will want to give this one a chance.

<< Keith Jarrett Trio: The Cure (ECM 1440)
>> Garbarek/Vitous/Erskine: StAR (ECM 1444)

Jan Garbarek: I Took Up The Runes (ECM 1419)

Jan Garbarek
I Took Up The Runes

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Rainer Brüninghaus piano
Eberhard Weber bass
Nana Vasconcelos percussion
Manu Katché drums
Bugge Wesseltoft synthesizer
Ingor Ántte Áilu Gaup voice
Recorded August 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

By 1990, Jan Garbarek had for decades been searching for that one key, navigating a landscape of peaks and valleys, only to find it slumbering within the runes which, with this album, he eponymously took up. A snaking version of Mari Boine Persen’s “Gula Gula” outlines the album’s perfectly proportioned ritual space for a sound that has come to define the Norwegian saxophonist’s output since. With Runes his tone had achieved a luminescence that fell like liquid onto the keyboard of Rainer Brüninghaus.

Balancing note and movement, Garbarek hones something truly special in the five-part “Molde Canticle,” which draws out the album’s deepest anatomies. Above all, the piece is about time. It speaks in a language that moves us. The gyroscopic quality of Part 2 hums around the centrifugal force of Garbarek’s lyricism as he scales ever higher. Part 3 features a singsong solo from bassist Eberhard Weber, who elicits bird-like harmonics from the soft glide of his bow. These enchantments are but a prelude to a round of wind and pianistic musings. Part 4 is a more rhythmic showcase (percussionist Nana Vasconcelos’s influence is also clear on tracks like “Buena Hora, Buenos Vientos”), and features some heavy blowing from Garbarek, at once whimsical and weighty, while Part 5 finds him weaving a simple wave over a harp-like ostinato.

These melodies all have the makings of folk songs (sometimes the other way around, as in “His Eyes Were Suns”), so vivid is each in its evocation of peoples and traditions. The title track is a more groove-oriented spectacle and finds Garbarek freeing himself even further. This leaves only “Rahkki Sruvvis,” another chanting piece with some overdubbed saxes for a final skyward glance.

Many have criticized Garbarek for going soft. I Took Up The Runes proves that he has simply channeled that dynamic energy through different rivulets of intensity. Like smoke, they need fire to soar, but fire in its natural state requires time and care to catch.

A masterpiece.

<< John Surman: Road To Saint Ives (ECM 1418)
>> Keith Jarrett Trio: Tribute (ECM 1420/21)

Agnes Buen Garnås/Jan Garbarek: Rosensfole – Medieval Songs from Norway (ECM 1402)

Agnes Buen Garnås
Jan Garbarek
Rosensfole: Medieval Songs from Norway

Agnes Buen Garnås vocal
Jan Garbarek synthesizers, percussion instruments, soprano and tenor saxophones
Recorded Autumn 1988 at Bel Studio, Oslo
Engineers: Ingar Helgesen and Ulf Holland
Produced by Jan Garbarek and Manfred Eicher

One can hardly overstate the innovativeness of saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Having started as a strong arm of free jazz impressionism, Garbarek quickly turned to the future by mining the past, regaling the world of recorded music with an historical dimension. The crowning achievement of these efforts remains Rosensfole, for which we put the spotlight on folk singer Agnes Buen Garnås in lush settings of synthesizer, percussion, and tenor and soprano saxophones. These two complementary forces touch their cool torches to a tincture of medieval songs from their native Norway, making for an album that could exist nowhere but on ECM, a label ever at the forefront of vivacious interpretations of antiquities with the languages of the here and now.

Such explorations had by then already manifested themselves in Garbarek’s work, but with Garnås his vision was deepened in an entirely new direction. It is also because of her that we have the current program, which reads like a catalog of her work in the field. The scope of her commitment is clearest in “Innferd,” which comes from none other than the singer’s mother. Her bright calls to power blend the word into image and both into air, filling the listener with countless narrative possibilities. (On that note, one needs hardly a translated word within reach in order to appreciate the evocativeness thereof.) The title song carries forth an especially potent vibe, which is heightened by Garbarek’s attentive percussion and synth dulcimer strains. Like many of the tracks thereafter, its spell breaks all too quickly, leaving us still and in dire need of the nourishment that comes in the 16-minute “Margjit Og Targjei Risvollo.” Here the music heaves with the weight of legend, bringing the freshness of its wounds to bear upon the unsuspecting listener with unwavering drama.

In the wake of this epic statement, “Maalfri Mi Fruve” peaks above the mounting waves in an intimate call and response. This stunner sits at the edge of a towering abyss of life (and a love of the same), segueing us into sonic flowers like “Venelite” and “Signe Lita” that morph into drum-heavy expositions of the plains. The latter, along with the droning “Grisilla,” unlocks its secrets one string at a time, floating freely and with the tinge of a lullaby—its sweetness veneered by a hint of mortality—before riding into the sunset on a steed of light and poetry. “Stolt Øli” gives us an even bolder taste of the salty air, furthering that ride through a cloud-shadowed landscape of crumbling stone castles and widening vistas, while “Lillebroer Og Storebroer” diffuses its gallop with electronic voices surrounding a blacksmith’s beat.

Garnås ends this timeless date with “Utferd,” which yodels across the skies with the surety of a shepherd folding into pasture and melts into Garbarek’s plaintive whale song. The latter’s reeds are similarly understated throughout, providing nary a leading line but thickly drawn chords and ephemeral appendages.

Although Rosensfole may not have caught on so noticeably stateside, it proved to be an eye-opener in Norway, where generations of up-and-coming jazz musicians took it as a window into the neglected corners of their craft. One can still hear its influence in the work of Steve Tibbetts and in crossover acts like Vas. A fitting companion to Trio Mediaeval’s Folk Songs, Rosensfole shows a side of Garbarek’s evocative abilities heard only on his solo albums and, more importantly, has in Garnås introduced many to a voice for the ages.

<< Keith Jarrett: Paris Concert (ECM 1401)
>> Shankar: M.R.C.S. (ECM 1403)

Jan Garbarek: Legend Of The Seven Dreams (ECM 1381)



Jan Garbarek
Legend Of The Seven Dreams

Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, percussion
Rainer Brüninghaus keyboards
Nana Vasconcelos percussion, voice
Eberhard Weber bass
Recorded July 1988 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Legend Of The Seven Dreams is hands down one of Garbarek’s finest. A fantastic album that welcomed listeners into one of the versatile saxophonist’s most captivating sonic continents, one mapped further on Visible World (a personal favorite), it digs deep into the soils of his native Norway and beyond and marks a leaning toward the soprano that has colored so much of his playing since. And with Rainer Brüninghaus on keyboards, Nana Vasconcelos on percussion (including some vocal details), and Eberhard Weber on bass as his fellow journeyers, who could ask for more?

Garbarek’s lines are as smooth as the jet stream in the folk tale that is “He Comes From The North.” The immediately recognizable berimbau of Vasconcelos lifts this piece to even greater heights of emotive power. An inauguration ceremony in sound, this blissful opener holds attention for every second of its fourteen-minute expanse. “Aichuri, The Song Man” is another cavern of dreams, where the plodding footsteps of history echo and an otherworldly synthesizer speaks with the voice of the future. Into this swirling milieu Garbarek adds his distinct flavors, divining every bone with a flesh made music. The wooden clicks of the “Tongue Of Secrets” impart flight to a solemn flute, whose only soul hides in the undergrowth of an undiscovered country somewhere far below (the flute also makes a wayfaring appearance in the solo “Its Name Is Secret Road”). “Brother Wind,” a classic in the Garbarek canon, makes an early appearance here. Like its namesake, its pure, inspiring craftwork flows in all directions. This and “Voy Cantando” feature a beautiful synth harpsichord as progenitor of Garbarek’s lilting themes. As might a river over eons, Weber carves not a few winding paths in “Send Word,” for which Garbarek is ever the reliable guide. The missing capstone to this pyramid is the two-part “Mirror Stone,” which drifts, not unlike the smoke of the album’s cover, from the fissure of a solitary pyre.

In terms of its electronics, the mythological potency of this date is a vast improvement on the integrative experiments of All Those Born With Wings. Here is a musician coming into his own, as he continues to do throughout his career, yet again.

<< Steve Tibbetts: Big Map Idea (ECM 1380)
>> Keith Jarrett: Personal Mountains (ECM 1382)