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Jan Garbarek / The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum

C. Michael Bailey By

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Track review of "Litany"

At first blush, there is really no reason the eutection of early a capella music and modern saxophone should work. It is antithetical, it makes no sense. However, wizards like Manfred Eicher, saxophonist and ECM stalwart Jan Garbarek, and early music mavens The Hilliard Ensemble not only defy the odds, they redefine them with a bit of creative musical alchemy. An adjective that meets at the intersection of ECM, Garbarek, and the Hilliards is atmospheric. Witness the reception of Officium (ECM, 1994) and Mnemosyne (ECM, 1999).

Officium Novum continues this unlikely success with a collection of Armenian music, evolved from the adaptations of Komitas Vardapet, compositions with feet in both medieval sacred music, and the bardic tradition of the Caucasus. "Litany"—a three-part composition, and the longest piece on the release—brings together the muses of spiritual and musical affinity: "Otche Nash," from the Lipovan Old Believers tradition, which is preceded by a fragment of the "Litany" of Nikolai N. Kedrov, a student of Rimsky Korsakov, founder of the Kedrov Quartet, and composer of much music for Orthodox choirs.

The Hilliard Ensemble approaches the triptych boldly, with Garbarek providing vaporous soprano improvisation over the ensemble, adding an acute awareness to the voices, while becoming a part of the vocal group. The kinetics of the piece are sharpened with Garbarek's stratospheric thoughts, transmogrified into musical notes approximating a prayer.

Track Listing: Ov zarmanali; Svjete tihij; Allting finns; Litany: Litany, Otche nash tradition, Dosoino est; Surp; Most Holy Mother of God; Tres morillas m'enamoran; Sirt im sasani; Hays hark; Alleluia Nativitas; We are the stars.

Personnel: Jan Garbarek: soprano and tenor saxophones; David James: countertenor; Rogers Covey-Crump: tenor; Steven Harrold: tenor; Gordon Jones: baritone.

Title: Officium Novum | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ECM Records

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