Jan Garbarek performing at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (last time in 2016) is always a special occasion for Jazz lovers, and tonight at The Festival Theatre they turned out in strong numbers to hear one of the defining sounds in Jazz over the last 50 years. Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek has created a body of work that is never in dispute by jazz fans and jazz musicians, and his saxophone sound has helped define the great ECM record label sound, for which he has exclusively recorded for over 40 years. There is no straight musical path to the work of Jan Garbarek, it has moved in, out, and around music of all genres, taking him and his listeners on many an unexpected journey along the way, and this perhaps as much as his unique ability as a musician has made him one of the definitive reference points for many other jazz saxophonists over the years.
On stage tonight in the group were three very individual musicians, each of whom could easily have taken centre stage themselves – long-time musical partner and collaborator with Jan, Rainer Brüninghaus (piano, keys), the very distinctive playing of Yuri Daniel (fretless bass), and percussion master Trilok Gurtu.
Our concert opened with a very short welcome to Jan (carrying his instruments in cases and bag) and the band to the stage as sounds like a Nordic wind blowing sounded throughout the theatre to perhaps remind us all of Jan Garbarek’s Norwegian roots and aesthetics. Those words of introduction were the only ones spoken for the entire concert, and although there will be many different viewpoints on this issue, I for one would have liked even the briefest of over-views to some of the music that we were about to hear as I love hearing those insights from the musicians. Jan Garbarek obviously chose to let his music do all the talking and explanations for him tonight, and I have to respect that decision.
Just what music do you bring to the stage with you to play when you are Jan Garbarek, there is so much to choose from? To be honest, I don’t think the vast bulk of audience members cared about the answer to that as anything that Jan played would be fine with them, and whatever he played obviously hit exactly the right spot every time. There was a very distinctive pattern to this concert as each musician was given solo time to explore and expand upon their own talents and, for me, that individual highlight belonged to Yuri Daniel (fretless bass), and I just wish that there had been more time to explore his wonderful jazz/funk sounds with him. Watching and listening to Rainer Brüninghaus being able to free himself from the constraints of the more formal structures required of him for some of the main music of the band was also another highlight of the show. This performance structure of group and individual musicians produced some wonderful flowing jazz music that was deceptive in its apparent “freedom” as everything was timed here to a very strict performance schedule, taking on at times the stricter structures and presentation of classical music.
As you would expect from musicians of this standard, outstanding skill was made to look effortless as music ranged from “The Tall Trees” from the 2009 Live album to audience participation clapping in time to a version of Steve Winwood’s “Had to Cry Today” ( from his Blind Faith days) featuring mainly Jan and Trilok Gurtu orchestrating audience rhythms.
This concert was billed as “Jan Garbarek Group ft. Trilok Gurtu”, so by that definition anyone buying a ticket should have expected the performance time of Trilok Gurtu to feature heavily in this show, but a few people around me in the audience obviously wanted more “Jan Garbarek” performance time. To balance that out a little though, the person sitting beside me had come to hear Trilok Gurtu. If you are not familiar with the work of Trilok Gurtu, he is a master percussionist who seems to have an instinctive desire to make a sound from any object that he can hit or shake, and is an exponent of the art of changing the sounds of an object by its immersion into water, and also rhythmic vocalisations (the last two are interesting if not over-used). Trilok Gurtu brings a wonderful fusion of Indian and Eastern music to Jan’s sound and his tabla-playing skills are formidable.
Review by Tom King