Jan Garbarek, The Hilliard Ensemble
ECM 2625 481 7971
This CD is a bit of a ‘blast from the past’, a live recording made in 2014 of the farewell tour of the Officium project. For those handful of people whom this project passed by, it was an experiment in which the voices of The Hilliard Ensemble collaborated with the jazz saxophonist/composer Jan Garbarek in semi-improvised reworkings of traditional and early music. A number of CDs were produced by ECM, and it would seem they then also recorded during the ensuing tours, and this is the result. The programme includes an eclectic mix of music by Garbarek himself, anonymous works from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, works by Guillaume le Rouge, Hildegard von Bingen, Antoine Brumel, Pérotin, by the more modern Russian church music composer Nikolai Kedrow and finally music by Arvo Pärt. Recorded in the cavernous acoustic of the Chiesa della Collegiata dei SS. Pietro e Stefano in Bellinzona in Switzerland, the ECM engineers have made a pretty good job of capturing a concert, which clearly involved a lot of ‘wandering around’, by simply taking up a stand-point and sticking to it. In comparison to the original concept, it strikes me that Garbarek’s contribution has become more dominant, while the voices have the slightly tired vibe of a choir on tour, with occasional wobbles uncharacteristic of the Ensemble in its halcyon days. Undoubtedly those who were completely bowled over by the original concept will want to invest in this CD, on which the several of the tracks are new conceptions, but I should add a couple of caveats: the Swiss audience are quite coughy, and in the acoustic this tends to ricochet around a bit; there is a degree of background noise as the performers move around; the singers are not on their usual superlative form; I feel that just as the third in the series of ECM CDs Officium novum didn’t quite capture the magic of the first two Officium and Mnemosyne, so this one is at best an envoie to the whole project. Appropriate perhaps that it ends with an account of the Scottish Renaissance part-song Remember me, my dear – sadly a more convincing version is on Mnemosyne, so perhaps better to remember that.
D. James Ross