Following a six-year break from recording, with only a guest appearance on bassist Miroslav Vitous' Universal Syncopations ('03) and a :Rarum compilation ('02), Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek returns with his first album of new material since Rites ('98). In Praise of Dreams continues along the path established by such recordings as Legend of the Seven Dreams , I Took Up The Runes , and Visible World. But while Garbarek demonstrates the same penchant for deceptively simple pieces with almost anthem-like themes, his collaboration with violist Kim Kashkashian and drummer Manu Katche results in something richer, something deeper than what has come before.
Garbarek, who has long since gone beyond the need for overt demonstrations of instrumental capabilities, has for many years been more interested in searching for a purity of sound, a truth in the essence of the song that has caused some to accuse him of taking the easy path. But the reality is much more significant. Garbarek has clearly lost none of his vitality, as evidenced by his soloing on pieces including "As Seen from Above" and the lilting pan-Celtic feel of the title track. But on a recording where he has, once again, created layers of sound over which Kashkashian and Katche have added key elements, Garbarek has aimed for an even broader cinematic landscape than ever before. And while there are some relatively straightforward compositions, Garbarek has managed to blend folk elements with a classical richness and an improvisational sensibility to create a work that not only fits comfortably as an evolution of his long-term oeuvre, but also goes to some new places as well.
Much of the success of In Praise of Dreams is attributable to Kashkashian, who, with a warm and haunting tone, is the perfect foil for Garbarek's more frigid timbre. Like Garbarek, she seems dedicated to finding the right phrase, the perfect inflection, to give the material substance. And like Garbarek, she places the intent of the material before her own ego and, consequently, aims instead for a simple purity that makes for an engaging listen while still managing to reveal many layers on subsequent plays.
Garbarek's pieces have a compelling truth to them, from ensemble pieces like "Scene from Afar" to "A Tale Begun," which finds Garbarek using simple synthesizer textures and long saxophone tones to act as a fitting coda, retelling the title track without the percussion and lead voices. It demonstrates that Garbarek's quest for the spiritual essence of a song may be at its most compelling when stripped to its rawest elements.
There has been much conjecture surrounding this release, and the reality is that this is no radical digression from the path that Garbarek has travelled for many years. Still, with an evolutionary approach that finds him moving into ever more vivid and moving audioscapes, Garbarek may be the closest to finding the meaning he has been searching for all along.
Track Listing: As Seen from Above; In Praise of Dreams; One Goes There Alone; Knot of Place and Time; If You Go Far Enough; Scene from Afar; Cloud of Unknowing; Without Visible Sign; Iceburn; Conversation with a Stone; A Tale Begun
Personnel: Jan Garbarek (tenor and soprano saxophones, synthesizers, samplers, percussion, Kim Kashkashian (viola on all but "As Seen from Above," "If You Go Far Enough," "A Tale Begun"), Manu Katché (drums on "As Seen from Above," "One Goes There Alone," "Knot of Place and Time," "Scene from Afar," "Iceburn," "Conversation with a Stone")