Review: Jan Garbarek & The Hilliards

Michael Tucker saw Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble at Temple Church, London on the opening night of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival

Over the years, this world-acclaimed and world-bridging ensemble of solo saxophone and vocal quartet has played a diversity of London venues, including St Paul's Cathedral and the Albert Hall, the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall. While they've played St Paul's a number of times, that venerable institution has never offered the best of acoustics.

For this, the first of their two sold-out nights at the EFG London Jazz Festival, Garbarek and his colleagues were able to exploit the startling, clear and resonant – yet also intimate – acoustic offered by Temple Church.

An ultra-attentive audience of around 450 filled the striking Templars building, set deep in the fascinating mix of courtyards and lanes that is the Inns of Court area off Fleet Street. They were treated to around 75 minutes of (largely) meditative magic from an ensemble shaping up to call time on what has been a remarkable 20-year journey into and across worlds as seemingly disparate as Gregorian chant and the blues, the sublimated drive of jazz and folk tropes and the hushed aura of a spare Arvo Pärt chart.

After these London gigs, an early December performance at King's College Chapel, Cambridge will conclude two decades of activity: decades which have seen the release of three extraordinarily well-received albums and any number of concert tours in Europe, Scandinavia and America.

Highlights of the evening included We Are The Stars, Garbarek's typically spacious, floating setting of a native American text which first featured on his 1988 Rites album and which was recorded with The Hilliards on the 2009 Officium Novum album, some extensive, stomping call and response improvisation on a range of archetypal folk-and-blues-rinsed melodies, and the encore that was the plaintive Remember Me My Dear from the 1998 Mnemosyne.

While I couldn't detect any lessening of quality in the voices of such long-time Hilliards as counter-tenor David James and baritone Gordon Jones, the fact that Garbarek's tenor was nowhere to be seen or heard all evening – as has been the case for some while now on these gigs – reinforced my feeling that there was less "bottom" or "ground" in the overall mix than used to be the case, say, on a number like Primo Tempore from the first Officium release of 1994. In contrast, there were plenty of diversely stepped excursions by Garbarek into the extreme upper register, as his now buttered, now searing lines rose high into the magnificent western end of the church.

A fine and most distinctive start, then, to a festival which just seems to get better by the year: other contenders for my attention on this opening night included John Surman at King's Place, Branford Marsalis at the QEH and Stanley Clarke at Ronnie Scott's.

Photo by Paolo Soriani/ECM Records

Your Comments:

Posted by Mark McLellan, 17 November 2014, 22:05 (1 of 1)

The last ever chance to hear this magical combination - a rare treat indeed. Quoted from your excellent review - See more at:
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