The Nordic saxophone master returns with his first album in six years...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Six years have passed since saxophonist Jan Garbarek's last solo effort, so it's fair to say that there's a certain amount of expectation surrounding the release of this one. And while In Praise of Dreams may please fans (if only because it means there'll be a lengthy tour to support it), it might leave others wondering what all the fuss is about.
I should set out my reviewer's stall here and say that much of Jan's recent output leaves me rather cold, though the glories of his 70's work (particularly with Ralph Towner and Bobo Stenson) are enough for me to still number him amongst my favourite musicians. His contribution to Miroslav Vitous' patchy Universal Syncopations was proof that Jan still had some connection with jazz, though anyone expecting more of the same is going to be disappointed.
A quick glance at the sleeve is enough to confirm that. Jan (on synths and samplers as well as soprano and tenor) is accompanied by viola player Kim Kashkashian and drummer Manu Katche; no Eberhard Weber or Rainer Bruninghaus in earshot. The diamond-hard, keening saxophone tone is still intact, and while it's arguably Garbarek's biggest asset, he seems to think it's enough to be in possession of it rather than actually use it to say anything with.
All the usualtrademarks are there; brooding, repetitive chords, sparse yet stately rhythms and more reverb than St Paul's Cathedral with all the furniture removed, but the whole is way less than the sum of its parts. Kashkashian's sonorous, folkyviola offers the most interest; Katche is barely there much of the time, leaving Garbarek to doodle away to little effect over wispy, vaporous electronics and distant pianos.
Maybe if it hadn't been six years in the waiting, it'd be easier to be kinder to this album. But it's too flimsy to support the weight of even the lowest expectations; it doesn't bear close listening and it doesn't work too well as aural wallpaper either. I suspect the patience of even the most diehard Garbarek fan will be tested; as the rest of us fall asleep, we might reflect on the aptness of the album's title...