Hearing this music fresh, the three musicians’ commitment is palpable.
Alyn Shipton 2012
Back in 1979, ECM released two albums by the creative trio of Jan Garbarek on tenor and soprano saxophones, Egberto Gismonti doubling on guitar and piano, and bassist Charlie Haden. All three contributed to the content of Magico and Folk Songs, but at the time, that seemed to have been that.
Garbarek went on to record the celebrated albums Eventyr (1980) and Paths, Prints (1981), and his career took a different turn. However, in 1981, the trio was briefly reunited, and recorded by ECM in concert at the Amerika Haus in Munich. Two albums’ worth of material from these sessions had been languishing in the vaults, but now ECM has collected the recordings into a double-CD package. On learning of the release, Gismonti commented that it was “like a message in a bottle that has taken 31 years to reach the shore”.
There is so much dazzlingly effective music here that it is extraordinary it took this long to appear. Haden’s La Pasionaria, better known in versions by his Liberation Music Orchestra, gets an intense, punchy reading from Garbarek. The saxophonist spits out notes with venomous feeling, before withdrawing to allow space for a shimmering guitar solo from Gismonti. Over 16 minutes, the piece never flags.
Garbarek’s disjointed, vocal-toned style (reminiscent of his early work on the recently repacked Dansere set) comes to the fore on an otherworldly version of his Spor, with Haden bowing shrieks from below the bridge of the bass, creating an eerie overall landscape.
Haden’s All That Is Beautiful, with Gismonti on piano, gets the kind of lyrical treatment we might have heard from a Keith Jarrett group at the time; Gismonti’s own Palhaço is a more sombre showcase for his pianism.
The main benefit of hearing this music freshly now, as if it was entirely new, is the passionate commitment of all three protagonists. The punchy spark in Garbarek’s playing is not quite so omnipresent nowadays, and even in his own Quartet West, Haden is seldom so totally on show, so exposed and so daring. Gismonti anchors it all, matching his European and American counterparts at every turn.