Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden

Jan Garbarek brings his keening and declamatory tone to a double-album collection recorded live at Dresden's Alter Schlachthof in October 2007. The release is significant on a number of counts: six years have passed since the Norwegian tenor and soprano saxophonist's last album as a leader (In Praise of Dreams) and sixteen since one formally issued as a Jan Garbarek Group album (Twelve Moons); more significantly, Dresden is the first-ever live set from that outfit, and as such the at-times fiery release comes as close to a free-blowing session from Garbarek as one is likely to hear. The recording's sixteen selections are a circumspect lot too, with previously-recorded pieces, covers, and new material all accounted for. The lyrical folksong dimension of Garbarek's music also receives a good workout, as shown by the inclusion of Twelve Moons' “There Were Swallows,” the buoyant “Once I Dreamt A Tree Upside Down” (first heard on Trilok Gurtu's Living Magic), and Legend of the Seven Dreams' dramatic “Voy Cantando.”

Though pianist Rainer Brüninghaus (with Garbarek since 1988) does play synthesizer in “Maracuja” and electric piano elsewhere, Dresden is largely an acoustic set, and with the compositions not burdened by overly intricate arrangements, the musicians range freely over the songs' themes; liberated from the airtight confines of the ECM studio, Garbarek and the ever-inventive drummer Manu Katché are especially inspired, and central to the recording is the near-telepathic interplay between the two. Drafted into the band when regular Garbarek cohort Eberhard Weber was sidelined by illness, Brazilian double-bassist Yuri Daniel anchors the band in a manner that's at times reminiscent of Weber (“The Tall Tear Trees,” to cite one example); the tasteful solo spotlight provided by his own “Tao,” on the other hand, could be characterized as Pastorius-like sans feedback noise.

With Katché driving “Paper Nut” (written by Indian violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar, the composition originally appeared on Song for Everyone back in 1984) frenetically forward, Garbarek first voices the song's chanting theme before achieving lift-off with a rapturous solo. When the group does tackle familiar material like “Twelve Moons,” it does so with a similar abandon, never so much that the tune loses its identifying character but still with a bold elasticity. While the release revisits earlier material (three from Twelve Moons, for example), it includes new pieces too, including “Heitor,” which could pass for a tune from the Wayne Shorter songbook—a connection that reasserts itself when the group delivers an epic, impassioned reading of “Milagre Dos Peixes” (Miracle of the Fishes), the Milton Nascimento piece from Shorter's Native Dancer. On the new “Maracuja,” the group underpins the saxophonist's Pied Piper lead with a soulful R'n'B feel that reveals a bit of grease under the band's fingernails. Based on a Nubian rhythm, “Nu Bein,” as frenetic as a roller-coaster's first plunge, includes the arresting sound of Garbarek playing seljefløyte, the Norwegian overtone flute. Not all of the material is ferocious in attack. “Rondo Amoroso,” for instance, finds Garbarek and company navigating a serpentine path through a piece by Norwegian composer Harald Sæverud (1897-1992).

Given that it documents the evening's concert in its entirety, Dresden includes the requisite solo spotlights, including two respectively given to Daniel and Brüninghaus for their own compositions “Tao” and “Transformations,” both of which allow the musicians ample room to display the full range of their talents; Katché's spotlight “Grooving Out!,” on the other hand, hardly seems necessary when the drummer “solos” throughout the recording. An obviously comprehensive document of the artistry of Garbarek and company, Dresden pretty much covers all the live recording bases. It's hard to imagine any long-standing devotee of the saxophonist's work being disappointed, notwithstanding those hungry for a greater helping of new material beyond the five previously unrecorded pieces included here.

November 2009