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Dansere: Jan Garbarek

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The advent of Jan Garbarek in the late ’60s created a riptide. Here was a tenor saxophonist from Norway, of all places, who, like nearly everyone else at the time, emerged from the shadow of John Coltrane. But Garbarek flaunted such a raw, individual sound that his influence was immediate. By the time Sart was released in 1971, Garbarek had staked out his northern territory, one of rich folklore, sprawling soundscapes and a bright, penetrating tone that seemed to generate reverb regardless of acoustics.

Don Cherry and George Russell were quick to recognize the sea change Garbarek represented for the expanding multicultural possibilities of jazz, and the intrepid label ECM would carry that torch. This box-set reissue brings together three albums from between 1971 and 1975, a period of prolific activity for Garbarek and his Nordic compatriots that charts the development of his inimitable sound.

The modal title track of Sart begins with a keening guitar riff by fellow Norwegian jazz icon Terje Rypdal, evocative of Bitches Brew, a relatively new release at the time, but evading that Miles Davis totem with drummer Jon Christensen’s subtle cymbal work and Garbarek’s insistent cries. It’s a proclamation: Norway has arrived, and though Garbarek clearly acknowledges what’s going on in the jazz capital of the world, the fledgling Oslo jazz scene is no ersatz New York.

Garbarek’s world is an existential one, navigated with “Sart,” meaning “tenderness”; he is as acutely conscious of negative space as he is of the sustained pedals he employs to mete out an attenuated sense of time. The ethereal “Song of Space” conjures the harshness of Krzysztof Penderecki, with Rypdal and Garbarek’s contrapuntal wailing forging a beautiful dissonance. On bassist Arild Andersen’s “Close Enough for Jazz,” Garbarek contributes otherworldly bass saxophone work, reinforcing the cross-cultural point brought home by “Irr,” a bass-heavy Garbarek composition that prefigures the avant-garde trio Air.

Witchi-Tai-To, recorded with pianist Bobo Stenson as co-leader, takes its title from a Native American peyote chant composed by saxophonist Jim Pepper, an acolyte of Don Cherry. Garbarek takes a strong cue from the free-jazz cornetist here, incorporating the diverse influences of Carlos Puebla’s bolero “Hasta Siempre,” Carla Bley’s propulsive “A.I.R.,” which establishes Garbarek’s resonant voice on soprano, and Cherry’s spiritual “Desireless.” That 20-minute ritualistic piece builds in emotional intensity as the tempo accelerates, leveling off for a pastoral denouement, a hallmark of Garbarek’s playing.

Dansere is a self-proclaimed high-water mark for Garbarek, his spatial exploration reaching a new level of tactility and lyricism not as evident in his earlier work. Returning with the same quartet from Witchi-Tai-To, by 1975, Garbarek had a crystallized vision which was hard to surpass. The modal ambience of the title track, developed from Balinese scales, is complemented by the inner mounting tension of “Bris” and “Lokk,” based on a Norwegian cattle call that Garbarek treats with a masterful poetic touch.

Originally Published