This live recording is the final release from this classical vocal group and saxophonist, who sold over a million copies of 1994’s Officium and played a thousand concerts across 20 years.

Label: ECM
Time: 14 Tracks, 78 minutes

This combination of classical vocal group and saxophonist is unprecedented and has had a massive appeal.

The Hilliard Ensemble (this incarnation is David James: countertenor; Rogers Covey-Crump: tenor; Steven Harrold: tenor;  Gordon Jones: baritone) were a British male vocal quartet, formed in 1994, when Gregorian chant was so popular, devoted to performing and recording music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Jan Garbarek is primarily a jazz saxophonist, one of the ECM label’s most popular artists, but he has stretched well beyond the genre, collaborating with musicians from many nations and musical idioms.

It was ECM boss Manfred Eicher’s idea to put the two together, and Officium has been one of the label’s most popular recordings ever, charting in some European countries.

Including music from each of their three releases, plus new track “Procurans Odium,” this concert was one from their final tour in 2014, recorded at a church in Switzerland.

“Hard, smooth stone surfaces and an abundance of air were the properties we sought,” Garbarek wrote in their final programme note, and that is one immediate benefit of this being a live set, as his solo opening to “Ov Zarmanali” echoes off the walls. It almost feels like he is walking around as he plays it.
It’s not just the physical spaces that work in this project. The oh-so-gently-paced, nine-minute “Litany” builds spaces in between the exquisite harmonies of its chorus, sometimes filled by a rare solo vocal, and at other times by Garbarek, acting as a fifth voice.

The building also blends an amalgam of calm from the voices on “Se Je Fayz Deuil” before it breaks into the distinctive “Alleluia Navitas,” with its likeness to pealing bells, over which the soprano sax solos exultantly.

Apart from the mournful “Allting Finns,” there is much to enjoy here, such as the simple melody of the title track and the calming, elegant beauty of Garbarek’s “We are the Stars.” Another highlight is the interplay in Hildegard von Bingen’s “O Ignis Spiritus,” which starts as chant and then liquefies into improvisation, each highly attuned to the sounds of the others, and where James and Garbarek almost exclaim together at the end like bursting flame.

Derek Walker