JAN GARBAREK GROUP DEBUTS IN BRATISLAVA

Scandinavian sax enchants Slovaks

IT’S NOT very common for an audience in Bratislava to watch someone playing a half-full metal water bucket on stage. Seeing the famed Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek performing live is an equally rare occasion. Early March gave Slovaks the chance to experience both these unique encounters at the same time – when Garbarek and his band gave their first gig in Slovakia.

IT’S NOT very common for an audience in Bratislava to watch someone playing a half-full metal water bucket on stage. Seeing the famed Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek performing live is an equally rare occasion. Early March gave Slovaks the chance to experience both these unique encounters at the same time – when Garbarek and his band gave their first gig in Slovakia.

And it was indeed something to see. The band of four entered the stage appearing as a bunch of modest men, belonging together – but each very different. Garbarek, projecting an image of an elegant, elderly gentleman from the North, was accompanied by Brazilian e-bassist Yuri Daniel, the youngest of the four, keyboarder Rainer Brüninghaus and an Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, who provided quite an exotic element to the gig – with much more than just his Asian origin.

Those who expected to encounter cold, melancholic Scandinavian tones at the concert must have been rather disappointed when the first notes of the concert began resonating throughout the hall of Bratislava’s Leisure and Culture Park (PKO). The music was a mixture of the Orient and Africa and reminiscent of a day at the zoo. Garbarek began with his soprano sax which, despite appearing small and fragile in his hands, gave out full and powerful tones filled with joy rather than melancholy. Only later did he exchange it for the more soothing and elegant sound from his tenor, the sax he usually holds in his hands for official pictures. You can admire the sound of a soprano sax, but the tenor gives a sax-man a more masculine and majestic expression.

Garbarek is said to be the group’s member who attracts the wider audience. Martin Valihora, a well-known Slovak jazz drummer, said on the morning of the concert day in a short interview with Slovak Radio that he expected Garbarek to open the hearts of the Slovak audience with melody rather than much sophistication in his music. The concert proved him right, but that is not to say that originality or innovative technique was missing from the concert.

This came mainly in the second part of the evening when Trilok Gurtu began to show off his musical artistry, after the rest of the band – except for Garbarek, who never gave an extensive solo performance and never spoke a word to the audience – had already played their solo parts.

Gurtu’s solo arrived after a point where part of the audience believed that it was soon to be all over and one could hear whispers of complaint from among the audience, ‘they’ve only been playing for just over an hour’. But Gurtu’s musical manifesto lasted more than 20 minutes and he filled every second of that time showing off several curious instruments, some of them rarely touched while playing with the whole group. His rhythmic toolkit included, apart from traditional drums and various smaller and bigger Indian drums and that aforementioned bucket of water, a now at-first-sight visible spiral cymbal and several different rattle bags.

Gurtu’s final solo concluded with a rhythmical beat box-like, sing-and-play dialogue accompanied by Garbarek on a whistle and left the audience in awe, literally speechless and motionless.

Well-known Slovak jazzman Peter Lipa attended the concert and said afterwards that it appeared as if the quartet was divided into two parts.

“In one part there stood Jan Garbarek as the creator, the man above it all, and with him a genial Indian drum player Trilok Gurtu,” Lipa told the Pravda daily. “In the other part were keyboardist Rainer Brüninghaus and e-bassist Yuri Daniel. But as a whole I liked the group a lot.”

Then the softness and melody of Garbarek’s sax returned again to say goodnight and goodbye – or maybe see you again soon – to the appreciative Bratislava audience.

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