ECM, 440 014 165-2, 2002
label website
Since 1969, Manfred Eichler's ECM label has issued an uncommonly reliable stream of outside-of-mainstream releases that invariably sport excellent sonics and production values as well as - well, great music if you like experimental, avantgarde or hybrid Jazz forms.

ECM's new rarum anthology series, remastered to 24-bit/96kHz resolution, spans 8 releases at present dedicated, respectively, to Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Bill Frisell, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Terje Rypdal and Bobo Stenson. The concept for rarum is simplicity and rarity itself: If a celebrated musician was given the freedom to select, from a career spanning decades, his personal favorite compositions and tracks -- favorites perhaps for reasons other than commercial success but rather, the actual experience of creating them, for their unique experimental character, because they've been overlooked or represent specific artistic development phases long since left behind -- which ones would he pick to become his "testament", his "heart and soul" collection?

Unlike existing samplers, rarum invited its artists to be hands-on involved, from selection to sequencing, writing the liner notes, providing archival photos - in short, to truly put their own imprimatur on the project.

On the present 2-CD package, this amounts to 24 tracks representing output from 1974 to 1995, and a veritable "who's who" listing of collaborateurs: double-bassists Palle Danielsson, Charlie Haden, Miroslav Vitous and Eberhard Weber; guitarists John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, Egberto Gismonti, David Torn and Ralph Towner; drummer/percussionists Jon Christensen, Michael DiPasqua, Peter Erskine, Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain, Manu Katché, Marilyn Mazur, Ustad Shaukat Hussain and Nana Vasconcelos; keyboardists Rainer Brüninghaus, Keith Jarrett, Kjell Johnsen and Bugge Wesseltoft; vocalists Agnes Buen Garnås, Rogers Covey-Crump, Gordon Jones, Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and John Potter; and Anouar Brahem on oud, Ustad Nazim Ali Khan on sarangi and Shankar on violin.

With this multifaceted window into the artist's psyche, we get Kavi Alexander-like East-meets-West outings loosely improvised; plenty of Garbarek's signature-style neo-tribal/shamanistic exploits where the saxophone-as-voice takes flight over minimalist atmospheric soundscapes suggestive of foggy Norwegian fjords and stark yet dreamy winter scenes or Gothic inner-city ruin; other -- equally recognizable Garbarekian -- tunes ride atop strong drumming grooves with Scandinavian folkloric melodies, sometimes delivered in "talking instrument" Klezmer-fashion, at others as hymns or anthems; Pat Metheny-esque extended ballads of amorphous spaciousness and underlying meditative quality; and more jazz-ified workouts with the Keith Jarrett quartet.

The pervading impression of Garbarek's rarum is of an artist strongly rooted in Eastern sensibilities. They value the negative spaces of silence as much as the actual notes and emphasize melody and rhythm over harmony and chords. It's as though Garbarek had internalized the natural landscape of Norway. You hear wide-open expanses of lakes, forests, Scottish highlands and rugged coastline. His is a unique aural language whereby he becomes his country's musical ambassador or tour guide - not the cities, mind you, but the twirling gray-on-gray mists, the broad skies, the awesome solitude of primeval nature.

There's something Zen-like sparse, whittled-to-the-essentials elemental about Garbarek's thing that goes straight to the heart. Add an uncanny knack for memorable melodies and you've got the perfect vehicle into Aboriginal DreamTime, at once old -- that tribal/shamanic element -- and contemporary -- just look at the associated artist roster.

If you're new to Jan Garbarek, rarum is the perfect entry into his world and oeuvre. And by virtue of culling from as many albums as there are tracks, you get the condensed five-day see-all tour of his universe. An essential album then for all lovers of ambient/world and the soprano/tenor saxophone as solo instrument.