Jan Garbarek Group - RFH, Sunday 18 Nov - London Jazz Festival

Playing for over two hours non-stop, with no announcements to break up the 20-30 minute pieces the group played, Jan Garbarek is no stranger to intensity, a fact reflected in the tormented cry of his tenor saxophone, a sound that evokes the turbulent winds and snow of Garbarek’s native Norway. Much like Miles Davis, Garbarek’s sound is instantly recognizable in any context, and his improvisation at the Royal Festival Hall concert was of the high standard we have come to expect from Garbarek after nearly forty years of being European Jazz’s leading light. Jan Garbarek Group - RFH, Sunday 18 Nov - London Jazz Festival
While Garbarek’s sound is very much part of his identity, the constant reverb on his microphone and the occasionally kazoo-like tone of his curved soprano sax were the prices the listener had to pay for his masterful presence. Unfortunately, when Garbarek stepped back and left the group to their own devices, the compositions became less enjoyable. Keyboard player Rainer Brüninghaus would have better served the music had he not draped his playing in a collection of dated sounding synthesizer string sounds on his keyboard, but unfortunately he only touched the grand piano on stage for a few minutes, preferring to compete with Yuri Daniel’s fretless electric bass, which couldn’t have sounded more dated.

Drummer Manu Katché was well received by the audience for his hyperkinetic drumming, displaying an astounding technique, but his impeccably tuned hi-fi tom toms and overly busy playing eventually started to lose their novelty, his rock background showing up as he peppered the music with endless drum fills at an almost constantly loud dynamic level.

While Garbarek’s presence on stage seemed to bring out the best in the group, the lack of taste and subtlety in each musician’s contribution made the whole package somewhat uninspiring, sapping some of the power of Garbarek’s intense playing.

Mark Trounson