"A lot of my work involves performers from different cultures, and I consider this collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble comes from a different culture. If not geographically, then certainly in the sense of time. In our best moments I think that we managed to give something new, something unheard of before. Something came into existence that was not there before."Jan Garbarek
For the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek, the impulse to return to the monastery of St. Gerold in the Austrian mountains was motivated by the wish to renew the "encounter with the unknown" that was Officium and to recapture the spirit of adventure that fueled that first cross-referencing of vocal music, initially of the 12th to 16th centuries, with contemporary improvised saxophone. The protagonists could not know where that time-defying experiment, inspired by the Officium Defunctorum of Morales would lead, and did not suspect that it would strike such a resonant chord with the public at large. And although the project had seemed, at least on paper, predestined to outrage the proprieties of two sets of purists - the custodians of early music "authenticity" and defenders of the jazz tradition - the recording was almost unanimously hailed by the press as an artistic triumph. "Sobering and soaring," the Herald Tribune called it. "Ice-warm, as it were. And the texture is so enveloping that you don't want to listen to anything less pure than Bach or Billie Holiday afterward." "At its most magical," said the New York Observer, "Garbarek's soprano sax insinuates itself almost imperceptibly into the top line of countertenor, David James, collapsing all barriers between 'jazz' and 'classical', the sacred and the profane, antiquity and now." The Guardian: "Garbarek's purity of intonation, and the sensitivity with which he spikes it with atonality have rarely been better captured on disc and, far from being a deliberate excercise in musical exotica, this often sounds like the setting that was just waiting to find him." There was, and remains, something very right about this combination, the depth and clarity of medieval polyphony in particular providing a context that rules out a mannered response from the freely moving "fifth voice" that is Garbarek's saxophone. The Norwegian player's improvising with the Hilliard singers is amongst his most essential and concentrated work: every tone is made to count.
Over the last five years, Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble have given hundreds of concerts together in the concert halls and, especially, churches of the world, and the music has changed with the repertoire. Many new pieces have beeen added and the freedoms that Garbarek habitually takes with the music have emboldened the Hilliard singers also to take more chances, both in selection of material and its treatment. Where Officium worked loosely on early music principles, Mnemosyne, the new double album, is wider in scope, and the improvised component of the music is expanded. Repertoire now spans twenty-two centuries, from the "Delphic Paean" of Athenaeus to the "Estonian Lullalby" of Veljo Tormis, via folk songs fragments from North and South America (the Peruvian "Quechua song") and Spain, freely developed, as well as pieces by Tallis, Dufay, Brumel, Hildegard von Bingen, Jan Garbarek, a Russian psalm, a Scottish ballad of the 16th century, and much more ...
At first sight, the title of this new recording appears to refer to something in the distant past. Mnemosyne is the Ancient Greek word for "memory". It is also the title of a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin, the first strophe of which is printed in the booklet that accompanies the CD. Hölderlin's words, which evoke transience and permanence equally, and images from Ingmar Bergman's film "The Seventh Seal" elicit dark reflections of an apocalyptic end-time. But when the singers' first chord appears, seeming to arise out of nowhere, and when the saxophone's tones begin to coil about it, the sounds unfold and the instrumental responses begin to intensify, a wide panorama, an entire world of associations opens up. It seems as if, in creating the music now entitled Mnemosyne, the players were exploring an inexhaustible, collective cultural memory to discover something new. John Potter, from the liner notes: "A lot of the newer repertoire on Mnemosyne consists of very small amounts of material with minimal notation. These are rarely complete pieces and often just a few scraps, recovered from old book bindings or buried for centuries under desert sands. We may decide on an outline form and share out the material, then we all improvise and none of us knows what will happen next. It was another magical experience for us, five musicians plus the mercurial creative impulse of Manfred Eicher ...We did it for each other, in the absence of an audience, and these are complete, one-off performances, which will never sound the same again."
2-CD set includes four-language booklet with liner notes by John Potter.