vendredi, novembre 26, 2004

Jan Garbarek: Keeping it current

The saxophonist Jan Garbarek is a giant of jazz. So why is he experimenting with electronica?

By Martin Longley

26 November 2004

The Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek could be forgiven for taking six years to produce In Praise of Dreams, the follow-up to 1998's two-disc Rites. It's understandable that he has been distracted by the overwhelming cross-over success of his collaborations with one of the pre-eminent early music outfits, the Hilliard Ensemble. Their Officium and Mnemosyne albums have enjoyed remarkable sales.

The other reason for the slow progress has been the rude health of his touring diary, though the new album has no connection with his touring band of Rainer Brüninghaus (keyboards), Eberhard Weber (bass) and Marilyn Mazur (percussion). In Praise of Dreams has an electronic foundation, created by Garbarek's sampling and beat-programming, and with contributions from Kim Kashkashian (viola) and Manu Katche (percussion). His approach is similar to that adopted by John Surman, adding weaving saxophone to pulsating loops and repeated sequences.

Garbarek remains committed to his regular quartet when it comes to live work, but they will remain largely inactive next year while he renews his acquaintance with the Hilliard Ensemble. "We meet on 7 December for a concert in Moscow, and we'll discuss plans for future recording. Next year, we're mainly concerned with the tour."

In concert on the first night of his UK tour, the saxophonist's performance stretches right back to 1973's "Hasta Siempre", and forward to a new, as yet unnamed, composition. Yet a tour with Kashkashian and Katche doesn't look likely. "I don't think it's realistic," he confesses, "because the two other musicians are extremely busy and have their schedules for years in advance. The other thing is that there are a lot of electronic sounds. I would need to have quite a few other musicians on stage." And Garbarek doesn't feel comfortable around laptops in a live setting - he wants an audience to see musicians playing.

The album was co-produced by Garbarek and the ECM label-owner Manfred Eicher. "It was very prosaic this time," says Garbarek. "I just chose 10 different tempos and started to work on what sort of rhythms that would imply. Then I started to dress them up with harmonies, melodies and textures. I think of the electronics being brilliant for creating a sonority, setting the stage for the characters to emerge."

At the outset, Garbarek knew that Manu Katche would be involved. The percussionist has already appeared on four of the saxophonist's albums. It turns out that he frequently wound up laying his parts down on Garbarek's basic rhythm patterns. "Sometimes, he will simply say, 'I have nothing for this', either because they're complete, or he hadn't any inspiration to do anything at all. He wouldn't change the rhythms I had made, but other things.."

The mournful viola of Kim Kashkashian is certainly sympathetic to Garbarek's keening saxophone sound. At times, the twinned melodic lines swim together, inhabiting their own tonal zones. At others, they engage in a dialogue, equally sensitive in their deep explorations. Garbarek had already heard Kashkashian's chamber and orchestral work on several albums in ECM's New Series of modern composition. Their paths had also crossed on the concert platform, at the 1999 Bergen Festival. They improvised on an Armenian folk song, and composer Tigran Mansurian went on to write a new work for the pair.

"Her sound just simply stayed with me," says Garbarek. "But I actually didn't think that she'd be able to do it all." Acclaimed on the classical platform, Kashkashian is always solidly booked, but a call from Manfred Eicher secured her services. Garbarek had already used a viola mock-up in his initial arrangements, so he eagerly awaited the real thing. "Her whole personality, and the way she plays her instrument, just took over my mind, he says."

The album's title track has become a familiar part of Garbarek's live set over the last three years, and its melody is naggingly familiar. Garbarek mulls over his titles very carefully, needing them to sum up the mood of each piece. He'll often take his inspiration from novels or poetry. "Conversation with a Stone" sounds like it has been inspired by Indonesian gamelan patterns. "Not consciously," says Garbarek. "Even in the most narrow Norwegian valley, a folk fiddle player will have heard gamelan music, he will have heard a Brazilian samba. In my case, I've heard a lot of music from around the world."

The album's closing track, "A Tale Begun", adopts a markedly different approach. "It was an idea that comes from the underlying part of another track. It consists of several instruments that we wanted to blend. As we worked on that, it just took on a life of its own."

Garbarek credits Eicher with organisational, conceptual skills, admiring his talent for programming the music's logical development on the album: he has a vision for the complete work. Garbarek feels too close to his music, unable on his own to achieve the necessary perspective. Invariably, the final element to be laid on each piece is Garbarek's own saxophone solo. "It's very often a first or second take. Very often, I do one take of the whole piece, not bits and pieces. Usually, that works best. It makes for a very coherent effect."

During a recent Jazz Legends interview on Radio 3, Garbarek said he no longer considered his music to be jazz. He elaborates: "It's just a matter of definition, really. I don't see the need to call it jazz, but there is a practical reason. I wouldn't completely belong in the classical bins. I wouldn't belong in the world or folk type of bins. It's fortunate, in a way, that there is this category, although it's not perfect for me."

'In Praise of Dreams' is out now on ECM; Jan Garbarek plays Symphony Hall, Birmingham, tonight

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd