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Wednesday, 24 November 2004

Jan Garbarek Group in Concert: Liverpool Philharmonic 20th November

This was the third time I had seen Jan Garbarek live. The first time, at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool, was an incredible night when he performed with Eberhard Weber, Rainer Bruninghaus, Bugge Wesseltoft (I think), and Nana Vasconcelos on percussion. That was in the 1980s. Then a few years ago I saw the current line-up of the group at the Philharmonic just after the ‘Rites’ double album had been released. Again, it was a marvellous night.

Seeing him this third time, I was a bit concerned that the concert might not take me anywhere that I hadn’t been before. I was so wrong. In the space of two and a quarter hours the music took in reggae, South African township, tango, Indian raga, as well as the sounds you would expect if you’d heard anything by this jazz saxophonist. The music was the expression of cool that you would expect from a Scandinavian jazzman, but at times it really rocked too.

The stage was set out with four clear spaces, one for each of the musicians. A grand piano and keyboard marked out the space for Rainer Bruninghaus, a stool, and Eberhard Weber’s unique upright electric bass together with foot pedals and monitors set out another area. Then there was a huge arrangement of percussion, gongs, cymbals, pots and drums where Marilyn Mazur would play. Finally a microphone waited for Jan Garbarek, who brought his saxophones and flute onto the stage in a leather bag.

The music was a mixture of pieces taken from the Garbarek back-catalogue and after more than fifty releases in various groups, solo and with other artists, there was a wealth of material to choose from. The sound was a bit muddy to begin with, it was difficult to hear Weber’s bass. This was soon resolved though, and the interplay between the four musicians became increasingly intricate, balanced and beautiful. This was four individuals who have learnt to play together without the interference of ego. Each gave the other space – there were solo pieces from Bruninghaus, Weber and Mazur – each of these was stunning. Bruninghaus produced a piece which had echoes of Debussy and Bill Evans. It was magnificently lyrical. Weber used an echo pedal to create loops and layer the sounds as he put together a frenzied piece. There was humour too, as he played around with the sounds he created. Mazur was as much the dancer as the percussionist, moving effortlessly around the enormous battery of instruments. Talk to anyone about a drum / percussion solo and we mostly yawn. But this was different – she produced such a melodic approach to the work that one was left breathless. It was a real piece of performance.

And beyond all of this, there stands Garbarek himself. His modesty on stage is clear to see. The music he played was beautiful, at times lyrical and at others stark. The emotion in the music is that of something which finds its way to the soul within. Garbarek at his peak has the ability to reach within and find something that resonates to a universal depth.

This was a wonderful night of entertainment – moving and engaging. I guess I am just going to have to spend the next few weeks listening to more and more of the CDs I have by Garbarek, and buying more to fill the void.

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