LJF 2022: Jan Garbarek Group

Christopher Walters heard shades of Weather Report and the Yellowjackets in a show that if it hinted at swan song had the intensity of youth

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Jan Garbarek at Garana Jazz Festival, 2019. Photo © Marcin Pulawski

Whenever Jan Garbarek comes to the UK, it’s a special event. He appeared on Sunday 13 November at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the London EFG Jazz Festival, his first time there since 2019. He came with an all-star band consisting of long-time collaborator and keyboardist Rainer Brüninghaus, whiz-bassist Yuri Daniel and the super-versatile percussionist Trilok Gurtu. What made this evening more special was that this is Garbarek’s 75th birthday year.

The group played material from Garbarek’s long and extensive catalogue, with all four members getting portions of the show to themselves to showcase their talents while giving each other lots of space to solo and improvise. The highlight of the show was Gurtu’s one-man-band interlude, where he played a lot of percussion from drums to tablas to bongos to pots to cymbals to even a bucket of water!

Garbarek himself came armed with his arsenal of reeds from tenor to soprano saxophones as well as flutes, and showed once again why he’s been one of the cornerstones of the ECM label for the last 50-plus years. He is able to create high-pitched effects aided by audio processing and it’s something you must see in person to fully appreciate. He doesn’t solo in the traditional sense but rather creates long phrases and notes which can either sound like someone screaming or wind blowing as you stand on top of a mountain.

The unison lines of Garbarek’s saxophone and Daniel’s bass helped create a unique sound which at times sounded like a mixture of the Yellowjackets and Weather Report. Bruninghaus’s keyboards created a lot of gorgeous soundscapes and helped fill out the sound while making the quartet feel like a much larger ensemble.

After an amazing two and a half hours of gorgeous music, the group returned for two encores and the four musicians took their bow to an appreciative audience. Garbarek returned to the stage alone to take one final bow by himself before leaving almost as he if was quietly saying thank you and goodbye.

Was this his swan song? It’s very hard to tell. Jan Garbarek has always been known as a man of few words and prefers to let his playing do the talking but if this were his final live concert, what a way to bow out and a lovely way to close one of the greatest musical careers. For me it was an unbelievable concert and one of the highlights so far of the EFG Jazz Festival 2022.

Jan Garbarek Group, Royal Festival Hall, London as part of the 2022 EFG London Jazz Festival