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Twelve Moons was Jan Garbarek’s 20th album as a leader for ECM. It also happened to be the 500th ECM production. The figures say something about the value of endurance. Back at the beginning of this story George Russell claimed that Jan Garbarek would come to be regarded as the most important European improvising musician since Django Reinhardt. A remark that smacked of hyperbole at the time now seems credible.


There are very few European improvisors who can be said to have transcended their original influences and made a music that reflects their own life, their own experiences ("If you don't live it, it won't come out the horn" - C. Parker), but Garbarek is unquestionably one of them. Lessons learned from a wide range of role models - Coltrane, Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster - have been completely integrated in a conception that is in many particulars specifically Norwegian yet is also universal, continually uncovering correspondences with the folk musics of the entire globe. "You might say that I live in a spiritual neighbourhood that is scattered geographically around the world." Thus Garbarek is equipped to move easily from, say, jazz ballads with Miroslav Vitous (Star, Atmos) to North Indian classical music, interacting with singer Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and his group on Ragas And Sagas. This is one aspect of the saxophonist's work. Along the way, working on his own projects, he has also learned much about the dynamics of band leadership, and how to staff his groups with provocative combinations of personnel, sparking new music by bringing together players from quite different cultures.

Twelve Moons was the first Garbarek Group record after 1990's I Took Up The Runes, and in the interim there had been one fundamental change in the line-up, with Marilyn Mazur replacing Nana Vasconcelos. The Danish percussionist, who joined Garbarek's group after leaving Miles Davis's, is less of a "colouristic" player than her predecessor. She stays closer to the heart of the rhythm, working closely with Parisian drummer Manu Katché to build lithe, limber grooves that the leader can deploy as launch-pads for his impassioned flights on soprano and tenor.


Eberhard Weber had been with Jan since 1981's Paths, Prints, though their association goes back further, to Ralph Towner's 1974 "Solstice" band. Rainer Brüninghaus joined the Garbarek unit in time for the 1984 recording of It's OK To Listen To The Gray Voice, strengthening the German contingent in the line-up; Brüninghaus, of course, was a charter member of Weber's Colours band in the 1970s.


The thrust of the Garbarek Group's music is multi-directional. If the rhythms are frequently earthy and almost tribal in feel, the synthesizer soundscapes (created by Garbarek himself on the title track, and by Brüninghaus elsewhere) are richly-textured and hypermodern. The ensemble sound is uncategorizable: Garbarek rejected the "jazz" category for his own work long ago. ("When people ask me what kind of music I play, I have to say 'I don't know.'")

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