Monday, December 29, 2008

Jan Garbarek & Dis

One person who stumbled upon my blog recently had been looking for information on Jan Garbarek’s Dis (1977), an album that I include as a desert island pick in an earlier posting . This person apparently had doubts about the album and wondered whether other people find the album boring.

Often, the American critics discount the merits of Jan Garbarek, the majority of whom equate Garbarek with the so-called ECM sound, believing that this sound is characteristically lacking in emotion and representative of the stark arctic regions of Scandinavia. When exploring jazz, particularly European jazz, it’s best to compare the critical evaluations in a discography like the American All Music Guide to Jazz to the ones in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, a discography created in Britain. Richard Cook and Brian Morton, authors of The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, believe that Garbarek’s Dis is a “beautiful album,” one composed of “spells and riddles on soprano saxophone (and wood flute) and a deep, mourning tone that floats and drifts over the rhythm.” The All Music Guide to Jazz, on the other hand, doesn’t devote any attention to Dis and simply awards it two stars out of five.

Dis is unique because it combines Garbarek’s saxophone with the recorded sound of a windharp, one that was positioned to record the gusts coming off the North Sea. Like the Aeolian harp in Romantic literature, this windharp, according to the information that accompanies the album, is “an instrument with strings that are brought to vibrate by the wind, thereby creating tones and overtones, which, in turn, are enhanced in a resonant body.” While the windharp isn’t present on the entire album, it does appear on three of the six songs.

This music makes it possible to approach poems like Coleridge’s “The Eolian Harp” and “Dejection: An Ode” with a greater understanding of what the speaker was hearing while he wrote those poems.

Garbarek’s music interests me partly because of its innovation. Dis includes the music of a windharp; Photo with Blue Sky, White Cloud, Wires, Windows, and a Red Roof (1979) contains songs giving voice to the images and sounds associated with those objects in a photograph; It’s Okay to Listen to the Gray Voice (1985) interprets lines from the poems of Tomas Transtromer; Madar (1994) pairs Garbarek’s saxophone with Brahem’s oud; In Praise of Dreams (2004) pairs Garbarek’s saxophone with Kashkashian’s viola; Ragas and Sagas (1992) combines Garbarek’s saxophone with the traditional music of Pakistan and India; and albums like Legend of the Seven Dreams (1988), Twelve Moons (1993), and Visible World (1995) incorporate Norwegian folk tales and landscape. What these albums reveal is a musician who remains committed to exploration.

Lately, I have been sharing some of Jan Garbarek’s CD’s with my son’s saxophone teacher who has been wondering why he hasn’t heard more of this person. At the same time, my son’s teacher has been sharing music by people like Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, people that have been unknown to me until now.