Jan Garbarek / The Hilliard Ensemble ‘Remember Me, My Dear’ CD (ECM) 4/5

I’m feeling nostalgic. It’s the music. It takes us places, opens up long lost memories, brings home many journeys and reminds us of the people we met along the way. It’s been over 25 years since ECM’s owner, producer and driving force Manfred Eicher brought together jazz legend, saxophonist Jan Garbarek and choral group The Hilliard Ensemble. Their inaugural release “Officium” was an unexpected masterpiece, touching a large international audience and selling over a million copies in the process. “Something came into existence that was not there before” in the words of Jan Garbarek. A thousand concerts, many in churches, abbeys and sacred places ensued, along with further albums. Listening to “Remember me, my dear”, a live album recorded from their final tour at Chiesa della Collegiata dei Santi Pietro e Stefano in Bellinzona, in the Ticino canton of Switzerland, reminds me of how quickly the years have passed since “Officium” first entered our consciousness, and how sometimes when good things come to an end, it is important to reflect on the beauty that has been gifted us, in this case by these incredible musicians.

The range of music performed by Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble has inevitably broadened in scope over the years, and the music on this album expands things even further. The recording begins with a traditional Armenian piece, Garbarek’s soaring saxophone filling the natural space of its environment like a long-lost friend rekindling a beautiful friendship. The performance also includes contemporary music, including Arvo Part’s “Most Holy Mother of God” and two Garbarek compositions “We are the stars”, based upon Native American poetry, “Allting fins”, a particularly characterful setting of a poem by Swedish author Par Lagerkvist. Music from the 19th and 20th centuries is consummately integrated alongside 12th and 13th-century offerings. Time and place, however, seems totally insignificant when listening to the soul-searching of Garbarek’s saxophone resonating perfectly alongside the collectively haunting voices of The Hilliards. And that has always been the beauty of this distinctively unique ensemble. The music here flows effortlessly, like a bird gliding, dipping in and out of the clouds, sunshine occasionally glancing off its wings as it takes in its surroundings with a reflectively assured approach, lost in its own reverence on one final journey home.

“Remember me, my dear” embodies all the special attributes of this unique alliance between the Norwegian saxophonist and British vocal ensemble. It might not have the impact that the famous debut recording had all those years ago, but it is a timely reminder of the incomparable beauty that was given to the world by this wonderful collaboration.

Mike Gates