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

As the man whose icily austere sound has a better claim than most to epitomise the sound of long-time label ECM, one would expect to apply many adjectives to a Jan Garbarek performance. “Funky” is not one of them.  Jan Garbarek - RFH, Sunday 18 Nov - London Jazz Festival

Yet that most double-edged of terms could be applied to a significant quota of Garbarek’s London Jazz Festival appearance – the result, one presumes, of the young blood that has recently arrived in his quartet. Following stints with Sting and Peter Gabriel, Manu Katché now occupies the drumstool, while Yuri Daniel’s five-string fretless has been taking care of the low end since the stroke suffered by upright bassist Eberhard Weber. 

The virtuosity of each is beyond doubt, but together they lend Garbarek’s glacial, almost spiritual sound a frequently upbeat groove that more closely resembles 70s fusion. That’s not a problem in itself, but the accompanying lack of subtlety certainly is.

The heavy handed Katché bears the brunt of the responsibility here, but the painfully dated keyboard sounds of long-standing group member Rainer Bruninghau don’t help. It’s all the more galling when he is sitting next to a grand piano that remains almost untouched.

Garbarek himself almost takes a back seat, failing to address the audience at all, his sole concession to showmanship the sporting of a dark red shirt when the others are in uniform black. All of which is fine, and entirely in character. Unfortunately, however, he takes a similarly low-key musical role, curiously, the only quartet member not to take a lengthy unaccompanied solo. 

His trademark, treated tone remains a joy to hear, and there are certainly moments – often when one or more musicians drop out – which stab right to the heart. Yet overall it’s a disappointing show from a man who rightfully bears the crown of Europe’s leading saxophonist.

Marcus O’Dair