Live reviews

Jan Garbarek Group at Royal Festival Hall (2022 EFG LJF)

Jan Garbarek, Rainer Brüninghaus, Yuri Daniel & Trilok Gurtu

(Royal Festival Hall. 13 November 2022. Live review by Charles Rees)

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Jan Garbarek. Photo credit: John Watson/

Earlier this year, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek turned 75. In celebration of this landmark birthday, he took the stage at the Royal Festival Hall with his quartet as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, coinciding with the festival’s own 30th anniversary and performing to a packed auditorium.

The set featured an eclectic mix of tunes marked in particular by their strong melodies. Garbarek’s characteristically wide array of influences were on full display, from plainsongs to power ballads (and plenty in between). Interspersed throughout were lone solo performances from each of the four musicians. This was a nice touch that helped to break up any potential for monotony over the course of what became a continuous two-hour set, as well as acting as a way for audience to acquaint themselves with the virtuosity and individuality of the performers.

Some visual aspects were used to accompany the music: Spotlights would descend on soloists, deployed in particular during the aforementioned solo moments. In addition, coloured lighting was at times projected onto a sizeable white backdrop, seemingly to convey moods.

On electric 5-string bass was Yuri Daniel. From the get go he established a strong dialogue with Garbarek, and provided the quartet with rock-solid grooves throughout the performance. In many ways, these grooves acted as a sort of glue between the individualism of the players, in particular blending the free yet minimalist elements coming from the keyboard with the rhythmic extremities of the percussion. His own style veered more towards the fusion elements of jazz, helping to fulfil that particular side of Garbarek’s music nicely.

Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu was featured predominantly on tabla and cajon, but also played on what appeared to be a custom drum set that featured an assortment of drums and cymbals not so common to the standard kit. During his solo set, he explored a wider variety of instruments, even making use of a metal bucket filled with water. The percussive elements one can achieve with such an item were especially fascinating; he made that moment quite humorous as well.

German pianist Rainer Brüninghaus‘s contribution throughout most of the performance was quite subtle, providing harmonic padding that was almost atmospheric. His solo moment on the other hand was much more pronounced, particularly punctuated by a move to the Steinway that was sitting on the stage next to his keyboard. He presented moments of honky-tonk and romantic piano, darting in and out with moments of sheer, free chaos. For the entirety of the concert, except that moment, he played on a Roland keyboard, mostly using the piano sample. While this did enable him to comfortably switch between synth pads and keyboard sounds, it was largely lost in the mix during solo moments and one can’t help but feel that would not have been the case if he had made more use of the Steinway.

For a player with Garbarek’s power, his tenor could also get somewhat lost in the mix at times. This was largely a consequence of the significant reverb he was using, though this did help him to achieve the ECM-produced sound he is best known for. Interestingly, this was not the case for his soprano, which was very powerful and carried around the room beautifully. While it did feel as though he took a few tunes to get into the performance, by about mid-way through the second number his solos became incredibly soulful, energetic and even quite moving at times.

Garbarek’s equivalent EFG London Jazz Festival appearance ten years ago was reviewed by Chris Parker (and, in a rare step for LJN, made into a podcast). That concert featured this exact same lineup, so it’s fair to say these four musicians have plenty of experience playing together. Their shared musical journey over the past decade was on full display in this year’s concert. It was a special evening and one that will no doubt remain in the minds of those who attended.

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