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Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden

Dan McClenaghan By

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For those new to the explorations of jazz, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek could be a new name. Never a prolific artist, Dresden is his first release in five years, following In Praise of Dreams (ECM Records, 2004). It was another five years between that disc and its predecessor, Mnemosyne (ECM Records, 1999).

But for fans who have been in it for the long haul—and for those open to the European jazz listening experience—Dresden is further proof of Garbarek's ongoing musical vitality, passionate artistry, and ability to put together a unique group sound. This is, after all, The Jan Garbarek Group. It is also the saxophonist's first ever live recording—surprisingly, since he has been active on ECM since the 1970s.

The ensemble sound is singular; a quartet with saxophone and a rhythm section, the approach is oceans away from the quartet work of Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins. Garbarek's music has a deceptive simplicity of melody drawn, in part, from Norwegian folk song, in addition to a rousing intensity born of fiery blowing and energetic, hard-driving and, at times, funky rhythms, bolstering keyboardist Rainer Bruninghaus' orchestrally complex harmonics.

Garbarek's influences are many, woven together to create a unique voice. On Indian violinist L. Shankar's "Paper Nut," Garbarek opens up with a sweet, piercing tone on soprano in front of a cool, lush electric keyboard wash and relentlessly buoyant rhythm. Revisiting "Tall Tear Trees," from the saxophonist's Twelve Moons (ECM Records, 1993), Garbarek begins by sounding as if he's blowing a tart double-reed instrument before the group swells into a majestic crescendo that gives way to a subtle, Art Ensemble of Chicago-like drum rumble section from Manu Katché. Further on, Garbarek blows honeyed notes, sounding like a forest piper emerging from the foliage into the group's electric neon cityscape.

Dresden, a double-disc set, offers up two-plus hours of Garbarek's music, featuring moments of atmospheric reflection ("There Were Swallows"), get-up-and-dance Latin grooves ("Once I Dreamt a Tree Upside Down"), serious joy ("Voy Cantando"), and serpentine saxophone ruminations, featuring Garbarek's keening articulation and sparkling clean tone.

Dresden is a stellar addition to Jan Garbarek's discography, a live recording at last!

Track Listing: CD1: Paper Nut; The Tall Tear Trees; Heitor; Twelve Moons; Rondo Amoroso; Tao; Milagre Dos Peixes. CD2: There Were Swallows; The Reluctant Saxophonist; Transformations; Once I Dreamt a Tree Upside Down; Fugl; Maracuja; Grooving Out!; Nu Bein; Voy Cantando.

Personnel: Jan Garbarek: soprano and tenor saxophones; Rainer Bruninghaus: piano, keyboards; Yuri Daniels: bass; Manu Katché: drums.

Title: Dresden | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: ECM Records

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