a little work, a lotta reward

Twelve Moons (ECM)
Jan Garbarek Group

By John Goodin

Jan Garbarek has been making challenging recordings of depth and beauty for 25 years. His newest was chosen as the 500th issue from the ECM label. Like most of his work, Twelve Moons is hard to categorize, but offers special rewards to the willing listener.

The Jan Garbarek Group on this disc is composed of pianist Rainier Bruninghaus, bassist Eberhard Weber, percussionist Marilyn Mazur and drummer Manu Katche. Vocalist Agnes Buen Garnas and Mari Boine each appear on one tune. Garbarek himself performs on soprano and tenor saxophone and plays synthesizer on the title cut.

Garbarek is Norwegian, but Twelve Moons is not the Norway of the Winter Olympics. This is music of distance and long winter nights, by turns delicate and piercing. Garbarek's distinctive tone is perfectly complimented by Weber's otherworldly bass sound. Bruninghaus' piano reminds us that this is jazz-based music despite being far removed from the conventions of bebop.

The two vocals tracks are not the usual attempts to sweeten an instrumental album with something for "the masses." The traditional "Psalm" is medieval in feel and Mari Boine's "Darvanan" is a powerful, jarring duet with tenor saxophone.

The full quintet appears on only three tunes, but all are gems, with the lengthy "Gautes-Margjit" providing the best example of their power. Of the five quartet performances, the remake of Jim Pepper's "Witchi-Tai-To" that closes the album is especially rich.

Twelve Moons is a disc that reveals more of itself with each listen, drawing the listener deeper into its soundscape with each repeat. Don't hesitate.