Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Am I going soft? My current listening pleasure includes the seductive tones of saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s latest offering, In Praise of Dreams (ECM, 2004). Long courted by fame and popularity (since his surprise hit with the Hilliard Ensemble, Officium), Garbarek ploughs his own moody, evocative furrow - regardless of it all.

Of late he has faced accusations of blandness, conservatism, high-class lobby-music and self-pastiche. It’s not difficult to see where the detractors are coming from. But then it’s also not difficult to feel the enjoyment of his sensuous, sinuous melodic inventions.

Garbarek’s recent UK concerts have attracted wildly different estimations. In Edinburgh alone, he attracted the admiration of Kenny Mattheison (The Scotsman): “Garbarek’s steely, keening sonority on both his instruments remains one of the most distinctive and attractive signature sounds in contemporary music, and this quartet is an ideal vehicle for it. His roots in jazz remain apparent, but are only part of an intricate interweaving of folk, ethnic, rock and classical influences that make up the flow of his music. His simple, folk-like melodies and clean musical textures can seem a little too clinical at times, but there is no doubting the musicality and invention of the players.”

Whereas Rob Adams (The Herald) was left with a very different sensation: “The first two segments of a two hours-plus set … were routine, passionless and rather twee. …Those moments when the other three sit down and give the fourth member the spotlight should be the audience's cue for a breather, as pianist Rainer Brunninghaus conjures up a kind of rhapsodic candy floss and Eberhard Weber does his 'my bass is auditioning for Dr Who' schtick. This may once have been amusing, now it's just silly.”

Adams’ praise is reserved for percussionist Marylin Mazur, a musician of undoubted dexterity, enterprise and invention. Then again, when I last heard her with Garbarek a few years ago (at the Royal Festival Hall), she drove me to distraction with her constant busy-ness and interference with the other instruments’ accents.

The album, it has to be said, is a more considered affair. But that too may be good or bad. You’ll have to decide, dear listener.

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