Jan Harbeck Quartet: Balanced

Danish tenor player inspired by Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves plays smoky jazz on a set of originals that he describes as lyrical and poetic

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I came across Danish tenor saxophonist Jan Harbeck when I had the pleasure of reviewing Snorre Kirk’s 2018 album Beat for Jazz Journal. Harbeck’s trademark, breathy playing had also featured in three of Kirk’s earlier recordings. Throughout his time with Kirk, the tenorist was simultaneously fronting his own quartet which released four albums – In The Still Of The Night (2008), Copenhagen Nocturne (2011), Variations In Blue (2014) and The Sound, The Rhythm (2019).

So here is Harbeck’s fifth outing as bandleader; on five of the tracks his established quartet becomes a quintet with the addition of conguero Eliel Lazo. The album was recorded unamplified in a church chosen by Harbeck for its naturally hushed acoustics which suits his style of playing. There was no studio editing which adds to the sense of balance. All the songs were composed by Harbeck and their order on the album has been organised to create a natural flow. Harbeck himself describes the music as lyrical, subdued and poetic.

The bluesy opener and title track Balanced is mellow, intimate and unhurried. It’s followed by the tuneful One Fine Day with, surprisingly, occasional strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Next, Silver String Valley extends the theme heard in the opener with Henrik Gunde eloquent on piano and Harbeck temporarily in higher register.

After the softly swinging Enchanter the pace lowers in Tranquility. Then the wistful, melodic Woodwind is succeeded by One Step At A Time with its return to the opening theme and Anders Holm mesmerically clock-ticking on drums with a rim stick. The tempo picks up in The Drive until the album closes with the poignant To Be Continued.

This is superbly smoky jazz. Harbeck’s signature sound is soft and relaxed with playing inspired by Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves. In Balanced he and his quartet have succeeded in delivering an elegant and well-crafted album.

Discography
Balanced; One Fine Day; Silver String Valley; The Enchanter; Tranquility; Woodwind; One Step At A Time; The Drive; To Be Continued (55.56)
Harbeck (ts); Henrik Gunde (p); Eske Nørrelykke (b); Anders Holm (d); Eliel Lazo (cga). Copenhagen, 10 & 11 April 2022.
Stunt Records 22102