Friday, 8 April 2016

Jan Garbarek Quartet - Afric Pepperbird (1970)

Another gem from my favourite jazz label, this time one of its earliest (only the seventh to be released), and for my money its first masterpiece. All four of these eventual ECM mainstays - Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen - make their debut appearance on the label here, recording a bracing but surprisingly accessible set of four lengthy pieces and four minatures.

Garbarek was still in thrall to Albert Ayler at this early stage in his career, and there's plenty of free jazz blowing around here. Scarabee, however, opens the album subtly with the beginnings of the tone that Garbarek would become known for, with just the occasional skronk, surrounded by twinkling percussion.  Eventually he lets rip, but the track as a whole still leaves lots of space, not least thanks to Christensen supplying a rock-solid foundation.  Beast of Kommodo, the album's longest track, shows off Garbarek's versatility as a reedsman, while Terje Rypdal sticks to one insistent riff until eventually getting an almost bluesy solo, in contrast to his later, more identifiable style.

On Side 2, both Blow Away Zone and the title track start out with Garbarek and Rypdal playing in unison.  On the former, Rypdal goes on to make striking use of a slide up at the bridge of his guitar.  Meanwhile Garbarek is at his freeest, with his 60s free jazz influences clearly on display, sounding more than once like a train whistle on its way from Oslo straight to Valhalla.  Afric Pepperbird itself settles into a swampy groove, with Rypdal breaking out the wah pedal.  All in all, a highly recommended early high water mark from a unique label starting to stake out its territory.

Afric Pepperbird

P.S. check out this quartet in concert from a year later!

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