wed 22/05/2024

Jan Garbarek Group, Barbican Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Jan Garbarek Group, Barbican Hall

Jan Garbarek Group, Barbican Hall

Red-blooded Norwegian jazz giant transcends icy clichés

The cliché which gets trotted out most often when describing Jan Garbarek's saxophone playing is his supposedly "icy" tone (Google “Garbarek” and “icy” and you'll see what I mean). As Garbarek's long-standing bassist Eberhard Weber amusingly points out in Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM, “I challenge the ladies and gentlemen of the press to think what they would write if Jan Garbarek wasn't Norwegian but Greek and his name was Garabekoulos!

Then his music would immediately turn into the smouldering, sun-drenched sound of the scorching South.” Fair point, Eberhard.

Hearing the latest incarnation of the Jan Garbarek Quartet at the Barbican, the group’s first UK concert since their sold-out London Jazz Festival gig in 2007, what came across most forcibly was the sheer emotional range of Garbarek's playing. If “The Tall Tear Trees” represented the ascetic, dolorous aspect of his art, then the supremely feel-good township vamp of "Once I Wished a Tree Upside Down" demonstrated that he could be as red-blooded as the next saxist.

Drawing at will from influences that nodded to the modality of Nordic folk music, classical music and jazz, while refusing to be corralled by any one of them, both of the above-mentioned tracks were from last year's Dresden, which provided much of the evening's material. Given that he's been recording for ECM since 1970, it's remarkable to think it's Garbarek's first live album for the label.

Dressed in all black, and looking rather like the hipper older sibling of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Rupert Giles, Garbarek, playing both soprano and tenor, was joined by Rainer Brüninghaus on keyboards and piano, Yuri Daniel on five-string fretless bass (Weber is currently recovering from a stroke) and special guest Trilok Gurtu on drums and percussion.

While there were some truly exceptional moments in the evening's music-making – a Garbarek/Gurtu duet on selje flute and tablas, Brüninghaus's florid right-hand runs, Gurtu's own elemental solo which embraced everything from virtuosic konnakol singing to the most rapid-fire tabla playing – the overall group dynamic felt slightly askew. I'm not sure if it was a problem with the monitors, or simply that when playing the full kit Gurtu was at times overpoweringly loud, but on more up-tempo material such as “Maracuja” the group didn't gel convincingly, rhythmically speaking. We're talking infinitesimally small differences of emphasis here, but the fact that Gurtu and Daniel didn't always appear to be hearing the underlying pulse in the same way was enough to prevent the music from grooving with the same fluidity as the live album. The encore, “Mission: To Be Where I Am”, sounded especially lethargic.

The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 Jazz on 3 for broadcast on Monday 15 March. Check out what's on in the Barbican Centre this season


Thanks so much for posting this video excerpt. I have long been a Garbarek fan... this piece made my morning.

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