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Jan Garbarek Group Dresden: In Concert Review

Live. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

An almost perfect showcase for the full range of Garbarek’s unique legacy and talent.

Bill Tilland 2009

In 1970, Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek made his first recording for Manfred Eicher’s then-fledgling ECM. Over the next 25 years, Garbarek averaged almost one album a year for the label as a leader, and also functioned as something of a house saxophonist for the label, playing on numerous sessions in support of other musicians on the roster. Garbarek’s distinctive style and tone on both tenor and soprano sax – austere, ethereal, plaintive but tightly controlled – became an integral part of the so-called ‘ECM sound’.

After 1995, Garbarek’s prolific output tapered off, but this most recent two-disc live set (amazingly, Garbarek’s first-ever live recording as a leader) celebrates 40 years of his stellar music-making with a very generous representation of his aesthetic vision.

Early on, Garbarek was schooled by jazz theorist George Russell and aligned himself with the experimental fringes of the European jazz community. However, over the course of his career, he gradually moved toward a more introspective idiom that combined elements of folk, world and chamber music. Most famously (or infamously), he collaborated in 1993 with an Early Music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, at a time when Gregorian chant was all the rage. The recording was an unexpected commercial success for ECM (and certainly a beautiful thing of its kind), but it was the ultimate confirmation for serious jazzers that Garbarek was no longer a jazz player at all, but instead a purveyor of upscale, new age parlour music.

The best thing about this new concert recording is that it places Garbarek solidly within a traditional jazz quartet, made up of French drummer Manu Katché, Brazilian bassist Yuri Daniel and long-time Garbarek pianist Rainer Brüninghaus – he’s been aboard since 1988. The program is diverse, drawing upon Garbarek’s extensive recorded repertoire and touching various ethnic bases. But in the context of a live concert, the saxophonist’s restrained ambient tendencies are balanced by vigorous interplay among band members and by much of his own solo work, which not only demonstrates Garbarek’s melodic gifts and typical mastery of tone and technique, but provides some real bite – sometimes bringing to mind his impassioned wailing as a member of Keith Jarrett’s celebrated European quartet back in the late 1970s.

Consequently, Dresden: In Concert becomes an almost perfect showcase for the full range of Garbarek’s unique legacy and talent.

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