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01/09/13

Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden
Magico: Carta De Amor
ECM Records

The unearthing and release of previously unissued jazz recordings has become its own industry. ECM has gotten into the act. Earlier this year they released Keith Jarrett’s Sleeper, from 1979, and now there is Carta de Amor, a two-CD set by the trio that called itself Magico. They were together for just two albums recorded in 1979, Magico and Folk Songs. The new album comes from a 1981 performance at Amerikahaus in Munich, ECM’s hometown. In the ’70s and ’80s, ECM presented and recorded many concerts in this recital hall, and expects to release more of them.

The point of this trio was to juxtapose three starkly contrasting musical personalities and create a new alchemy. Egberto Gismonti (guitars, piano) is rich Brazilian ethnicity. Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor saxophones) is Nordic passion channeled through lyric austerity. Charlie Haden (bass) is red-blooded American jazz chops.

Despite their individual strengths, their collective efforts result in a surprisingly inconsequential album. On Gismonti’s “Cego Aderaldo,” the composer’s nervous, fidgeting rhythmic thrusts and counter-melodies incite unattractive squealing from Garbarek’s soprano. The two versions of Gismonti’s title track are pretty, filigrees of guitar counterpoint set against yearning, floating tenor saxophone, but they never transcend languidness. On Haden’s “All That Is Beautiful,” Gismonti’s repetitive piano section is long on indulgence, short on revelations.

While the ensemble entity is the priority, the live setting creates opportunities for extended blowing, sometimes meaningful, sometimes not. On Garbarek’s 14-minute “Spor,” group improvisation stays in a static three-way suspension of clicks and sighs and random gestures. Because of individual solos, the strongest piece is Haden’s 16-minute “La Pasionaria.” It has Garbarek’s complete series of fervent, ascending cries, and Gismonti’s densely layered tapestry, and Haden’s dramatic emergence from accompaniment. He takes the song out for the final five minutes in a dark, rapt bass ceremony.

Originally published in December 2012
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