JAN GARBAREK/THE HILLIARD ENSEMBLE Officium (ECM New Series)
Not wishing to revive a long-running behind-the-scenes debate between two Feedback contributors concerning what should and shouldn't be discussed within these hallowed pages, I'll merely state that the top 30 indie chart success of this album proves that whatever it may be, it's popular (in an entirely relative sense), some hacks proclaiming it to be the greatest "crossover" work since everybody went mad over Gorecki's Third Symphony two years ago.
Jan Garbarek is a Norwegian saxophonist, well known through over two decades of releases and collaborations on the German ECM label. The Hilliard Ensemble are a vocal quartet specialising in both early European and late 20th century work. On "Officium" they perform a selection of chants and choral pieces from between the 12th and 16th centuries, accompanied by Garbarek's improvisational sax playing. And up to a point, it's excellent: the singing and musicianship is superb, and at times the voices and saxophone merge in an unlikely but wonderful Baked Alaska kind of synergy, especially on the three versions of Christobal de Morales' "Parce mihi domine" and the anonymous "Sanctus". But on repeated plays minor grievances become noticeable: the sonics are superb (for a CD), but try listening to it on your Discman and you'll find that Garbarek is playing in your face and The Hilliard Ensemble are a few rooms away, and in really noisy environments not there at all. And although "Officium" is a great idea, I found it lacked variety, and over a whole album the attention cannot be said to not wander. The gorgeous packaging doesn't travel well either. Still, I reckon that "Officium" will have a lasting effect (not least on record shops who can't decide whether to file it under "classical" or "jazz"), and will still be enchanting and bewildering in roughly equal measures many years hence.