Norway have quite a few world class jazz musicians, among them Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen, Karin Krogh, Bugge Wesseltoft, Nils Petter Molvær and Eivind Aarseth. But there is liitle dispute that Jan Garbarek is in a special class, and has been since the mid 70s. He started playing in the 60’s, but his career got up to full speed with the collaboration with Keith Jarrett on the LP Belonging in 1974, and he has kept up since then. Last night and tonight he plays two sold out houses at Bærum Kulturhus, awith his band, nd I was there yesterday.
What characterizes Jan Garbarek first of all, is the tone of his saxophones – tenor and soprano. The tone is full bodied, clean, with no or lithe vibrato, and at once recognizable as his own. His melodies are usually soundscapes with an othen melancholy melody on top, he paints his melodies in an impressionistic way. There are many jazz saxophonists who play faster than Jan Garbarek, but very few who have as much soul in their playing.
My first contact with Jan Garbarek’s music was around 1972-73, when he had his own quartet with the Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, Danish bassist Palle Danielsson and Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen. I saw them at jazz clubs in Oslo, and loved their LP, Witchi-Tai-To from 1973. Here was a definite departure from freebag jazz, with many different influences from contemporary jazz, from pop, rock and latin, specially in the rhythms, but also in some of the melodies.
The year after Witchi-Tai-To came Belonging, where Keith Jarrett replaced Bobo Stenson. The album is attributed to Keith Jarrett with “his European Quartet”, but I remember it just as much as Jan Garbarek’s album. Be that as it may be, but the album made a bigger audience recognice Jan Garbarek’s special tone and technique. Keith Jarrett’s song Long As You Know You’re Living Yours was paraphrased by Steely Dan in their song Gaucho from the album with the same name from 1980. Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarrett have cooperated on many other albums after Belonging. For me, Arbour Zena from 1975, was a revelation. Here the impressionistic technique in Keith Jarrett’s compositions of painting a lyrical foundation of sound over which the melody can elaborate freely is noticeable.
Jan Garbarek’s musicians at the concert yesterday is definitely worth a mention. Rainer Brüninghaus on keyboards has been a musical partner for a long time. The same goes for the Indian drummer and percussionist Trilok Gurtu, while bassist Yuri Daniel from Brazil is the newest member of the group, since Eberhardt Weber got sick and had to quit some years ago. The musicians are all high class soloists, but they perform as one unity when needed. It is a true joy to see and hear musicians of this eminence live.
The repertoire at the concert was a mix of music from several of Jan Garbarek’s albums over the years. Many of the pieces were also transformed and welded together with parts from different songs. With Garbarek’s tone and also strong influences from Norwegian traditional music, and Trilok Gurtu’s Indian background, much of the music can best be described as World Music. The song Stolt Öli is a good example of this, beng a traditional Norwegian songs with Trilok Gurtu’s Indian rhythm instruments as a natural flavor. Yuri Daniel also adds some exciting grooves to the music that makes many parts of the concert pure jazz rock.
Through the years Jan Garbarek has collaborated with most of who’s who in the jazz world, plus other masters like Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin, Bade Fateh Ali Khan, Marilyn Mazur, George Russell, Egberto Gismonti, Charlie Haden, Manu Katché, The Hilliard Ensemble and Terje Rypdal. He has always gone his own ways musically, and has kept his genuine playing style all these years. It has been some time since I saw Jan Garbarek live, and I am glad I had the chance yesterday.
The concerts at the Bærum Kulturhus, just outside of Oslo, are the only two concerts in Norway on this tour. The next chance to see the quartet is in Germany in April. But they played at Maijazz in Stavanger two and a half years ago, and the whole concert, recorded by NRK, is available at YouTube. To me it seemed to be almost identical to the one I saw. Unfortunately Jan Garbarek’s record company, ECM has a policy of not releasing anything on the music streamings services, so if you don’t own or buy physical copies or buy the digital records at iTunes, there are few possibilities of hearing Jan Garbarek’s music.
All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.