“A master storyteller whose tales are set off by bolts of lightning and cascades of ice”
“In Praise of Dreams” is the first new album from Jan Garbarek since “Rites” was released six years ago. A striking work, with some of Garbarek’s most intensely melodic writing, characteristically powerful solo statements, and spirited instrumental exchanges, it also emphasises the Norwegian saxophonist’s capacities as composer-orchestrator-arranger, and proposes some new colours and textures in its blending of acoustic and electronic elements. Yet the work’s authorship is evident from the very first unmistakable saxophone tone: “I think more in terms of evolution than revolution,” Jan Garbarek says, “the changes in the music taking place slowly over time, but there are some surprises here.”
Although the trio heard on the disc is unprecedented, there is also a logic to the unorthodox line-up. “In Praise of Dreams” features two musicians with whom Jan Garbarek has some history – American-Armenian violist Kim Kashkashian and African-French drummer Manu Katché. Garbarek, Kashkashian and Katché span a lot of idioms between them, but the music sings with a focussed sense of purpose, in the context that Jan has shaped for it. If dreams are movies for the mind, the album is aptly titled - its atmospheres are evocative and decidedly ‘filmic’. The use of loops and samples, in fact, only occasionally stressed on earlier Garbarek albums (“All Those Born With Wings”, “Visible World”), has been a hallmark of music Garbarek has written for film, theatre and ballet. The most immediately striking aspect of “In Praise of Dreams”, however, is its dialogic quality, the interweaving melodies of saxophone and viola. “I was really overwhelmed by the life and the depth that Kim brought to the lines that I presented to her…The way she plays the viola, the sensibility of the phrasing, all the subtleties and nuances of her sound production, it’s very close to the way I’d like to play saxophone. There seems to be a very good connection between our timbres, too, which was even more than I had hoped for. The richness in her sound brings the music to another level and gives me something to reach for, in my improvisations. It was inspiring to work with her.”
Describing Kim Kashkashian as “a very powerful new agent in my music-making”, Garbarek adds that “her strong sound had come to define the viola in a new way for me. I’d had many opportunities to listen to her music on ECM recordings through the years, in chamber music or orchestral contexts.”
The paths of Garbarek and Kashkashian had also crossed on several occasions. Both, for instance, were invited to contribute as soloists to music that Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou shaped for the films of Theo Angelopoulos, Garbarek appearing on the soundtrack of “The Beekeeper” (and subsequently on Karaindrou’s ECM debut “Music for Films”) and Kashkashian at the centre of the music for “Ulysses’ Gaze”. Kim Kashkashian had also been closely associated with Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. On his “Caris Mere” album, recorded in 1994/1995, Kancheli revised his “Night Prayers” to include Jan’s saxophone, while Kashkashian appeared on the title track.
In 1999, at Norway’s Bergen Festival, Jan Garbarek and Kim Kashkashian finally had a chance to play together, in an Armenian Night highlighting the music of composer Tigran Mansurian. “I played, more or less impromptu, with Kim on an Armenian folk song,” Jan Garbarek recalls, “And just being near that sound of hers was really magic for me, and consolidated my feeling that this is the way to play the viola.” Mansurian subsequently wrote the piece “Lachrymae” for Garbarek and Kashkashian, which they perform on the new album “Monodia”: “That brought our two sounds even closer together. So when I came to prepare material for ‘In Praise of Dreams’ Kim’s sound was very much in my mind…”
From her side, Kim Kashkashian was moved by the freedom and authority of Garbarek’s magisterial saxophone playing:
“The process of producing a sonority that informs through its content alone has always held a fascination for me. In Jan’s playing, I found a thrilling example of this element. Any sound he makes has an inevitable musical and organic logic based on an ever-flowing and unfailing relationship between duration, shape, and tension. It was a challenge and a pleasure to share in this process, which crosses boundaries of musical style – first with Mansurian’s music, and then with Jan’s own compositions. Thank you, Jan!”
Jan Garbarek first became aware of African-French drummer Manu Katché after hearing his sparse, unorthodox beat propelling the most striking tracks on Robbie Robertson’s 1987 solo album. Producer Manfred Eicher put Garbarek and Katché in touch with each other.
Katché, it transpired, had long been a follower of Garbarek’s music (“his records filled my adolescence”). Manu Katché joined ECM’s 20th Anniversary concerts in Paris, played in trio with Garbarek and Indian violinist Shankar (saxophone, strings, drums – not so far from the “In Praise of Dreams” concept ) at La Cigale in October 1989, and joined the Jan Garbarek Group for several tours. He appeared on four subsequent albums with Jan - “I Took Up The Runes”, “Ragas and Sagas”, “Twelve Moons” and “Visible World”, prior to “In Praise of Dreams”.
“Manu has many qualities as a player. He can do many things, but much of his playing is pattern oriented. He’s looking for just the right drum pattern to fit a piece of music and he’ll stay with that, but vary it in minimalistic ways with dynamics and attack. Rather than breaking loose to play soloistically, he maintains the ambience he’s created. Now, I love all the old jazz drummers, like Jo Jones, for example, or Gene Krupa, and they were also more pattern oriented rather than freely expressive in the way that most contemporary jazz drummers are. And it’s something I’ve missed. Manu has that quality in his approach, but also a very elegant sophistication, a poetic sensitivity.”
Garbarek attributes the overall shape of the album to its producer. “When it comes to organizing the pieces as a whole, that’s difficult for me, because I’m bound up in the details of each individual tune. The best ideas for that usually come from Manfred Eicher. Hearing these pieces during the mix he very quickly had an idea about the dramaturgy. He sees the whole more spontaneously, and I trust him 100 % in this. I’d tried all kinds of way to put these pieces together, but once Manfred suggested an order, everything fell into place – not for the first time.”
As for the album’s title, it was borrowed from the poem “In Praise of Dreams” by Wislawa Syzmborska, which begins, in the English translation, “In my dreams/I paint like Vermeer van Delft”… There is something in the climate of Garbarek’s recording, at once enigmatic and crystal-clear, that makes the image seem appropriate.
Jan Garbarek has spent most of the six years since “Rites” on the road, touring alternately with his regular quartet and with the Hilliard Ensemble, playing material from their collaborative “Officium” and “Mnemosyne” albums. In 2001 he compiled a double album of “Selected Recordings” for ECM’s :rarum anthology series, and in 2003 appeared, alongside Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and John McLaughlin, on Miroslav Vitous’s widely-acclaimed “Universal Syncopations”.
And in 2004, as already stated, Garbarek plays with Kim Kashkashian on Tigran Mansurian’s “Monodia”, a recording that also features Leonidas Kavakos, the Hilliard Ensemble, and the Munich Chamber Orchestra under Christoph Poppen.
The Jan Garbarek Group, with Eberhard Weber, Marilyn Mazur and Rainer Brüninghaus is currently entering the final leg of year-long World Tour, with concerts through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom in October and November. For details of cities and venues, consult the ECM web site: www.ecmrecords.com
A Manu Katché album, his first as a leader for ECM, is in preparation.