fri 08/12/2023

Jan Garbarek Group, Stormen, Bodø | reviews, news & interviews

Jan Garbarek Group, Stormen, Bodø

Jan Garbarek Group, Stormen, Bodø

The saxophone titan's many sides revealed as he opens north Norway’s Bodø Jazz Open festival

Jan Garbarek opens Bodø Jazz Open at the Arctic Circle city's Stormen concert hallAll photos © Henrik Dvergsdal/Bodø Jazz Open

Norway’s celebrated jazz colossus Jan Garbarek hadn’t played the north Norwegian city of Bodø for 15 years. Moreover, he and his group took the stage of the spanking new Stormen concert house as the openers of Bodø Jazz Open, the city’s four-day festival of all that is and isn’t strictly jazz. If there was any pressure, it didn’t show. Resolutely composed during his hour and three-quarters on stage, Garbarek also said nothing.

Given his stature, the waves of power intermittently surfacing in the music and the nature of the event, there was only one possible outcome – a standing ovation. And it came.

Seeing an internationally known artist play their home territory is always different to catching a tour date elsewhere, especially so if they haven’t been seen in the neighbourhood for some time. Garbarek certainly wasn’t going to receive a welcome as as cold as the city’s sub-zero, wind-battered, ice and snow-covered streets.

Rainer Brüninghaus Jan Garbarek Group Bodø Jazz Open Stormen concert hallIn coastal Bodø, just inside the Arctic Circle, Garbarek was accompanied by regular companions Rainer Brüninghaus (credited with playing “tangents” – piano and synthesiser, pictured right) Yuri Daniel (fretless electric bass, pictured below left) and Trilok Gurtu (percussion, pictured below right). Daniel skipped around his bass like a scampering mountain goat in an unaccompanied showcase. The unassuming-looking Brüninghaus’s solo piano segment alternated precisely picked sequences of rippling notes with the brute force of his palms slamming down on the keyboard. Gurtu’s very lengthy percussion work-out – a big-time crowd pleaser – took in a gong struck while submerged in a bucket of water and rhythmic scatting which eventually played call-and-response with his leader’s flute. But whatever their solos, Garbarek, his flute, tenor and soprano sax remained the focus.

The episodic concert had the feel of both showcase and revue. In all, excluding the encore, five pieces were played, each seamlessly melding different compositions, and each incorporating less diverting solos from the three that weren’t Garbarek. It began with "Heather" and the tenor sax. The soprano was then whipped out as the music quickly morphed into "The Creek" from the 1995 album Visible World. The tenor only returned close to the end of the set.

Yuri Daniel Jan Garbarek Group Bodø Jazz Open Stormen concert hallAs the set developed, Garbarek revealed why he is so distinctive and lauded. But it took a while to get there – at times, early in, it felt as though time had stood still. This was the sound of the sophisticate’s jazz of the late Eighties: drifting, plaintive and for night-time moments of reflection. Then it dawned. What Garbarek and his label ECM were doing then coincided with a shift in taste towards his style. Garbarek is not about a particular period when a wholesale embracement came his way, this is what he has always done.

The set’s diversity encompassed sinuous passages which signalled his interest in the music of Asia, which had surfaced on the 1990 album Ragas and Sagas. Best of all was when he took flight, his soprano sax throwing off angular clusters of keening tones with an intensity which confirmed Garbarek can still be a master of the unpredictable.

Trilok Gurtu Jan Garbarek Group Bodø Jazz Open Stormen concert hallBy touching on many aspects of Garbarek’s musical identity – but not that of his work with the Hilliard Ensemble – the concert did not stay with any one of them for an extended period. Right for the setting, it was also in keeping with the spirit of Bodø Jazz Open, a festival where the operative word is "open".

Stormen (translated as storm), which opened for business last November, is a venue with four halls. Garbarek played the 944-capactity Store Sal (the large hall), a wood-panelled room with two balconies similar in feel to but more spacious than the Barbican’s Milton Court. The sound was pristine. Elsewhere in Stormen, the Lille Sal (the small hall, around 250 capacity), and Sinus (around 450 and so named as it’s a transplant of a venue which used to operate elsewhere in Bodø), hosted festival sets by Knut Reiersrud and his blues guitar (aided by members of the challenging avant-jazz-prog outfit Elephant9), percussionist and former Garbarek collaborator Marylin Mazur, and the strikingly powerful rock-inclined Sami singer Elle Márjá Eira (pictured below left), who told moving song-stories of her people, their symbiotic relationship with their environment, heritage and the reindeer.

Elle Márjá Eira Bodø Jazz Open StormenMost spectacular was a concert dubbed the Northern Jazz Expo. Although it sounded as if it could be a bone-dry conference, it effortlessly brought together 27 musicians of different styles and five dancers, all from Norway’s three most northerly regions. Traditional fiddle and harmonium ushered in a show where dancers moved on podia in the crowd to find their place taken by a trombonist or drummer. Fusion and minimalist piano gave way to big-band swing and smooth neo-soul. A fantastic, unique experience.

Out in the city, away from Stormen, it was a short walk in minus-10 centigrade to find Marit Sandvik’s samba-Brazilo-jazz warming a tapas restaurant and the inviting, folky voice of Ann-Iren Hansen inducing a singalong from the crowd at the Paviljongen bar.

The festival also made use of the very agreeable Naustet, a timber boathouse ringing to the sweet tones of John-Kåre Hansen’s guitar. As well as a bar, it also sported a sauna. As Hansen played one end of Naustet, at the other a naked man materialised to grab a towel after a session with the hot coals. That’s Bodø Jazz Open, the festival where open really can mean just that.

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