successful time traveling

Officium (ECM)

Jan Gabarekl The Hilliard Ensemble

By John Goodin

Imagine a chapel in the Swiss Alps, say around 1540. An especially gifted group of monks is rehearsing some difficult, modern vocal music. In walks some guy with a strange instrument (soprano saxophone) who starts improvising a fifth part to the carefully composed four-part piece "Parce mihi domine" from the Officium defunctorum recently composed by Christobal de Morales. It's beautiful! Like something from the future.

The piece ends. Without speaking, the group begins to sing an old piece from 14th Century Czechoslovakia. The stranger, obviously not a local (he's from Norway), unpacks a larger horn (tenor sax) and creates a new, long-toned bass line in harmony. The monks nod to one another and smile. The hours pass.

Manfred Eicher, Mr. ECM, had this vision and persuaded the renowned Hilliard Ensemble and the brilliant Jan Garbarek to bring it to life for himself and for us. I guarantee that you've never heard anything like this before.

Officium isn't some jazzed-up version of Renaissance and Medieval sacred vocal music. The Hilliard Ensemble sing these pieces straight, with clarity, discipline and feeling. Garbarek doesn't just try to play along in a pretty way. He brings his 20th Century vocabulary to the altar and creates a powerful synthesis of ancient and modern spiritual yearning. This synthesis is worthy of your attention.