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Review: Jan Garbarek

Review: Jan Garbarek Group
(Barbican, January 31st 2010, review by Frank Griffith, photo by Mike Stemberg)

The Jan Garbarek Group featuring Trilok Gurtu cast an uninterrupted two-and-a-half hour spell over a full house at the Barbican last Sunday. When told upon entry that there would be no interval, I assumed that we’d be treated to the intensity and the drama of a ninety minute Sunday night show, permitting suburbanites to make a relatively early path home. Not the case though, as the show just kept on giving more. More varying beats, more rhythms, tonal colours, and multiple excursions across styles and genres.

It would seem superfluous to recount the individual pieces one by one, the emphasis being more on developing a lengthy but fluid and engaging oceanic collage of Nordica fused with many other worldly sounds, notably the barrage – both visual and aural – of Trilok Gurtu ‘s arsenal of percussion. From lightly tapping melodic tablas behind the leader’s pensive soprano sax, to unleashing a full-on 1970s Headhunters-like funk beat on the drum kit, Gurtu’s versatility and command of idioms was staggering. Pianist Rainer Brüninghaus had plenty on his plate as well with the keyboard getting most of his attention, not only as a soloist but providing psuedo-orchestral backdrops and ambient surroundings, which made the quartet sound a much larger ensemble. The five string electric bass of newcomer, Yuri Daniel , added a percussive and incisive touch, clearly influenced by the post-Jaco Pastorius school. This, coupled with his Brazillian heritage (his solo feature included the well known Milton Nascimento standard “Vera Cruz”) added another dimension to the group’s already wide palette.

But the Garbarek sound, presence and passionate lyrical calling were always paramount. While he played throughout, he did not actually improvise much (at least not lengthily) and he also refrained from a solo feature number which all the others had. His deep, rich tenor saxophone sound has a haunting cry making it instantly recognisable yet never slipping into maudlin or sugary sentimentality. His soprano sax though did dominate however. Soprano is his chosen voice for the music, and no less an effective vehicle for his message. This writer just prefers his tenor- simple as that.

No words were uttered, no programme notes listing the titles were distributed. If this risked leaving the listener a bit at sea with the repertoire, perhaps this was the intention. It proved a welcome antidote to the usual over-provision of information in today’s internet age.

This concert had so many delights, it is no wonder that Garbarek has such a large and loyal following. He plays tuneful and in some cases folk-like melodies over jazz influenced harmonies. His forays into improvisation are never excessive, and neither get self-indulgent or resort to the virtuostic displays of musical hedonism often associated with jazz. A memorable night of richly varied, worldly music.

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