Pursuing the line of thought about the relationship between jazz and classical music: recently released on the great ECM label is Officium Novum, the follow-up to the world-wide phenomenon that was 1993’s Officium, featuring a collaboration between saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble,
I’ve written before about the incorporation of improvisation into classical music; here, it’s taken back even earlier in musical history.
The first album presented music by Perotin, de Morales and Dufay, Gregorian chant and anonymous Hungarian and Czech composers from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Garbarek paints lyrical arabesques around the Hilliard’s singing, decorating and embellishing their archaic repertoire with very modern improvised lines.
There’s something deeply contemplative about the result; Garbarek’s meditative ruminations on the unvoiced lyrical potential of the music sung by the Hilliard seems to open up a door onto a different plane, to which the singing aspires but cannot reach. Garbarek’s improvised melodies ought to sound anachronistic against the medieval repertoire: and yet they don’t. Somehow, the synergy works to make the sax lines sound ancient, and, at the same time, to make the ancient songs sound modern.
Officium Novum widens the musical geography to include Armenian music, Arvo Part and compositions by Garbarek himself.
Detractors have lamented the intrusion of a saxophonist and improvised lines onto the music and the Hilliard, and point to the ensemble’s disc of Perotin (called, simply, Perotin), as a purists’ dream (and it is a fantastic disc). But, as the sales figures for Officium proved, and as they no doubt will for the new album, there is a niche for this type of ‘cross-over’ music. The link between ancient and modern continues to beguile modern listeners, divide critics, and foment debate: all to the good.