Nov 11, 2009
ECM has always presented the finest European jazz musicians, and those from Scandinavia in particular. Of those performers, the most identifiable with the sound of ECM is Jan Garbarek.
Garbarek had won a competition for amateur jazz players back in 1962, leading to his first gigs. He worked steadily in Norway playing soprano and tenor sax for the rest of the decade, before coming to prominence as a member of Keith Jarrett’s “European Quartet” in 1974. That group – Jarrett on piano, Garbarek on sax, Palle Danielsson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums – created a sound that went in the opposite direction from most bands of the mid-seventies, delivering cool, calculated yet emotional performances.
In the studio, Garbarek tends never to use more notes than he deems necessary, and allows silence and space to have their places in his solos. As a result, his recordings as a leader are often deeply meditative and spiritual, with his longer solos often compared to Islamic prayer calls. He also is never afraid to record in solo or duo settings, working memorably with guitarist Ralph Towner, as have other ECM label mates.
His most recent release, a live album recorded in Dresden, Germany, shows his willingness to stretch his sound a bit. Working with a quartet composed of Rainer Bruninghaus on piano, Yuri Daniel on bass and Manu Katche on drums, he plays with tempos, reaches for the high notes on soprano sax, and generally emits a more relaxed vibe. If you are a fan of his studio recordings, check out the ironically titled “The Reluctant Saxophonist” to hear Garbarek come as close to swinging as I’ve ever heard. The cut also features strong piano work from Bruninghaus, who has been an integral part of bands put together by Kenny Wheeler and Eberhard Weber in the past.