May 18, 2024

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It was a special evening: Jan Garbarek Group blistering rhythms at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival 2023: Video, Photos

This year’s our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival in celebration 10 years of Association.

The weird exception to this was Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Since 1970, he has created a twisted jazz that explores Gregorian chant, Nordic folksong and Indian classical music, but for more than a decade he’s been playing the festival circuit.

It remains a sound like no other in jazz: Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek opened with a high, gull-like keening on his curved little soprano sax, electronic wind effects cranking up the Nordic factor, before launching into the familiar stately fanfare of his Molde Canticle and power evident in some beefy ensemble convergence and particularly in some of Garbarek’s more minimally accompanied sax excursions, growling and howling, stabbing and shrilling with improvisational energy.

Jan Garbarek Group review – smooth jazz and squeaky toys | London jazz festival | The Guardian

This gig, however, was a marked improvement on his performance seven years ago with a similar quartet, largely because the band is now dominated by its charismatic percussionist, Trilok Gurtu. His entertaining solo spots on tabla, cymbals, gongs, squeaky toys and even a bucket of water take centre stage, but he also pushes Garbarek into his most garrulous and exploratory solos, both on tenor sax and on bamboo flute.

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.

Jan Garbarek Group with Trilok Gurtu Review | Lisa Diveney, Chris Parker | LondonJazz

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.

Jan Garbarek Group feat Trilok Gurtu - Photo by Arne Hauge

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.

All the while keeping up blistering rhythms, while his duet with Garbarek on end-blown flute saw the pair whistling and rattling to delectably avian effect.

It was a special evening and one that will no doubt remain in the minds of those who attended.

Unfortunately, the video is not from our festival, but it was performed with the same composition and the same composition.

Jan Garbarek has said that he seeks to make his playing “fit the tone, texture and temperament of the music: Video •

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