There is rich history to the pairing of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and British early-music vocal team the Hilliard Ensemble, history that resonates in every nuance of their latest (and, we presume, last) collaboration, Remember me, my dear.
Garbarek, David James (countertenor), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Steven Harrold (tenor), and Gordon Jones (baritone) worked together on 1994’s stately, experimental Officium and 2010’s Officium Novum. Like Remember me, my dear, those albums’ radical dissections of early classical music and its contemporary cousin resonated with holy harmonies, allowing both saxophonist and singers to soar as one sheet of sound, though acting separately from the other. The throes of the past were the focus—primitive-sounding chants and deep, aged rolling r’s, with Garbarek’s reeds offering up plaintive wails and playful howls—but there was, too, a distant sense of the now. If the Art Ensemble of Chicago hadn’t already taken the “ancient to the future” slogan, Garbarek & Co. could have.
Recorded during their final tour together in 2014 at the Chiesa della Collegiata dei Santi Pietro e Stefano in Bellinzona, in the Ticino canton of Switzerland—shortly before the Hilliards disbanded permanently—Remember me, my dear isn’t radically different from their previous work. But the monastery atmosphere that gave their studio work a dank chill is warmed here.
They open gently with Garbarek’s ever-so-slightly distorted soprano sax and lead into the vocal wind of prayer that is “Ov zarmanali,” then turn the equation sideways on the moodily medieval “Procurans odium.” Here, the saxophonist toys with the subdued breathiness of the Hilliards’ lead in a manner that’s less hymnal yet no less majestic. The quietly energized invocation that is “Agnus dei” becomes what Brian Wilson called his own Pet Sounds album, a symphony to God that also soliloquizes the joy of collaborative music itself.
Amen to that.
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