Recorded at Dresden’s Alte Schlachthof in October 2007, this two-CD set is the first-ever live album to be issued under Jan Garbarek’s name. “Dresden”, a fiery and powerful performance and a fine document of the Norwegian saxophonist’s exceptional improvising capacities, captures his group in a period when it was, of necessity, reformulating its approach. Earlier in the year bassist Yuri Daniel had been drafted into the band to help Garbarek fulfil commitments when Eberhard Weber, a unique component of the Garbarek ensemble’s core sound for three decades, had been sidelined by illness.
The new group tackles its repertoire head-on; with the interaction between Garbarek and drummer Manu Katché at the centre of the music. Daniel, a Brazilian bassist living in Portugal whose previous associations have ranged from Maria João’s group to the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble, helps to anchor the pulses and rhythm patterns. Rainer Brüninghaus, a Garbarek Group member since 1988, maintains his long-established role as colourist-in-action. While both bassist and keyboardist claim their own solo space, more often they help to shape a climate in which Garbarek’s hymnic, declamatory and intensely melodic solos can find full expression, drawing energy also from Katché’s hard-driving drums. As The Guardian wrote of the group on this leg of the 2007 tour, “The contrast between an intense jamming sound and the songlike simplicity of the tunes is always Garbarek’s magic mix, but this version of the band has an exhilarating intensity.”
The Norwegian-German-Brazilian-French band powers through material old and new, and sketches a world of musical interconnections - beginning with an ecstatic account of “Paper Nut”, written by Indian violinist Lakshminarayana Shankar for the ECM “Song for Everyone” album back in 1984. “Milagre Dos Peixes” (Miracle of the Fishes), by Milton Nascimento, was a revelation for many musicians when Wayne Shorter introduced it on his “Native Dancer” recording: the Garbarek group lift it to another level. “Rondo Amoroso”, is Garbarek’s arrangement of a composition by Harald Sæverud (1897-1992). Perhaps the most prolific Norwegian composer after Grieg, Sæverud was strongly influenced by the essence of folksong - the parallel with Jan’s work is clear enough.
Of Garbarek pieces, three selections from “Twelve Moons” are revisited - “Twelve Moons” itself, “The Tall Tear Trees” and “There Were Swallows”. From “Legend of the Seven Dreams”, comes the dramatic “Voy Cantando”. “Once I Dreamt A Tree Upside Down” with its leaping, teasing melody, was first heard on Trilok Gurtu’s “Living Magic”. (Gurtu, incidentally, joins Garbarek for this year’s round of concert dates). Material appearing on disc for the first time here includes “Heitor”, “The Reluctant Saxophonist”, “Fugl”, “Maracuja”, and the striking “Nu Bein’”, a piece based on a Nubian rhythm and introduced by Jan on seljefløyte, the Norwegian overtone flute.
“Dresden” is an eagerly awaited release. It has been five years since “In Praise of Dreams”, eleven years since “Rites”, and sixteen years since “Twelve Moons” the last Garbarek disc identified unequivocally as Jan Garbarek Group album. In the interim, through steady touring, the ensemble has become perhaps the most popular European group currently playing instrumental music with strong improvisational traits - beyond genre now, and in an idiom of its own, broader than “jazz”, though still inspired by its most open-minded exponents.
The live album is issued on the eve of another run of two dozen dates in October and November. After which, the Garbarek Group resumes its touring activity in February 2010.