Jan Garbarek Group with Trilok Gurtu, Royal Festival Hall, London

Although Jan Garbarek never gives humdrum concerts, the evening still felt mildly disappointing at the point when, after an hour and a half or so, he and his group took a bow with an air of finality.

But then, like the toy hidden inside an Easter egg, Trilok Gurtu – who had until that point played fairly conventional kit drums – went for an extended solo peregrination round the percussion devices arrayed around him. He started with an admirably rhythmical coughing fit, punctuated by apologies, then fell into high-speed vocalising, peppered with hard consonants, over a steady five-part drum beat. He shook bunches of bells and shells; clicked and popped with his mouth; drummed his fingers on a hollow box; shook a small drum with a long spring coiling out of the skin (the kind of thing incautious parents buy for their children from stalls at Womad) for a noise like thunder. He rapped a brass helter-skelter coil, producing a shimmering tone; he chirped away on a bird call and fell into devotional sung phrases.

A metal device like a ringed planet or a flying saucer with a halo had been waiting all night like a gun over a fireplace: now Gurtu struck it, and it shimmered. He dripped water from a handful of bells into a tin bucket, then belaboured the pail with a padded drumstick and tapped a half-immersed gong inside it that wobbled like its own dub with the reverberation of a monastery bell.

Garbarek returned to the stage with a wooden flute and traded phrases with Gurtu. The drummer clapped him into a frenzy, the audience joined in, and the rest of the band broke into a Scandinavian-Indian version of a rodeo hoedown, followed by a forcible anthemic lullaby.

It was a powerful ending to a bitty evening. Garbarek has recorded no new material as bandleader in nearly a decade, an aeon for a musician once so prolific. Of his old band, only Rainer Brüninghaus remains; new bassist Yuri Daniel has in the past meshed perfectly with Garbarek’s absent other drummer Manu Katché but never quite locked in with Gurtu.

Garbarek does his best work by repetition – “Molde Canticle” essentially repeats four bars of melody for half an hour over a glacially changing backdrop – that assembles slow cathedrals. Tonight’s mixture of snippets, half-heard folk melodies or blues in a rain of cymbals, or Brüninghaus’s piano run from Romanticism to flat-palmed noise, a brief history of musical Modernism, felt by contrast like a succession of sketches proffered and then discarded. But Gurtu’s solo turn and the playing it towed in its wake were well worth the wait.


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