Anja Garbarek
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Anja Garbarek


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Anja Garbarek @ Øya Festival

Oslo, Not Applicable, Norway

Oslo, Not Applicable, Norway

Anja Garbarek @ Molde Festival

Molde, Not Applicable, Norway

Molde, Not Applicable, Norway

Anja Garbarek @ TBC

TBC, Not Applicable, Poland

TBC, Not Applicable, Poland

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Angel-A Soundtrack review - by Imran Khan

Angel-A is the soundtrack to a Luc Besson film that has yet to make it over to this side of the Atlantic. The film centres on a young man whose attempt at suicide is disrupted by a mysterious young woman he meets on a Paris bridge. Upon writing the film, Besson tapped Norwegian singer Anja Garbarek to undertake duties as the film’s musical composer, citing her albums as an inspiration behind the story. What Angel-A offers then, is a set of darkly elegant jazz-noir mood pieces that serve to evoke the smoky cityscapes of a cool, black-and-white French New Wave Paris. The soundtrack is mainly comprised of two of Garbarek’s previous releases, 1996’s Balloon Mood and 2001’s Smiling And Waving, as well as a few brief instrumentals and two new pieces. The two new pieces are the sumptuous highlights here: the supreme lushness of “No Trace Of Grey” features the quiet surge of a string-section wrapped snugly around a jazz-rippled groove, while the soul-sinking bass plunges that inform “It’s Just A Game” are interrupted by spacey cabaret-like interludes, in which Garbarek murmurs the chorus almost tauntingly. The older material on the soundtrack showcases some ingenious sonic touches as well, from the clattering of knick-knacks that make up the rhythm of “The Cabinet” to the deep, spacious hollows of “Balloon Mood”, which echo back a ghostly vocal amid the swell of eerie atmospherics.
The gorgeous, spooky and lingering ambience of Garbarek’s music is somewhat derailed by the bluesy contributions of Eat and Hiro My Hero, the other artists that appear on the disc toward the end. But since the soundtrack features heavily Garbarek’s work, the closing numbers by the other artists can be easily overlooked, without spoiling the sultry mood that precedes them.
Keeping in mind that this is a soundtrack, these songs mirror perfectly the emotions of the film, the ghosts of the story’s characters haunting the lyrical refrains. However, to those unfamiliar with the film, the soundtrack stands alone as a solid, well-rounded effort and also a wonderful introduction to those not yet acquainted with Anja Garbarek’s music. -

Since she began her recording career fourteen years ago, Norwegian songstress Anja Garbarek (daughter of famed jazz musician Jan) has managed to build a small cult following that has never really expanded beyond the outskirts of Europe. A rather photogenic woman with ice-maiden features and a seductively cool honeyed voice to match, she’s seemingly content with bathing in the shadows of art-pop obscurity. So it’s questionable whether Garbarek will easily win over the uninitiated with her fourth studio release, Briefly Shaking - an album that furtively pays tribute to the serial killings by mass murderers found in the true-crime novels that inspired her. All morbidity aside however, Shaking proves fascinating stuff.
Backboned by a ribbon of electro-beats, found-sound collages and an orchestra haunted by Josephine Baker, Shaking is a sonic world of darkly-lit fairytales. It’s a world where the virginal pathos of Snow White is cross-bred with the homicidal mania of Dennis Neilsen, all behind a curtain of some pretty twisted humour. At the forefront is Garbarek, braving the helm with steely resolve: “Never any exit wounds, never forced off the road,” she sings.
Rooted solidly in a foundation of hook-laden pop, the songs employ a number of amusingly stylish arrangements. Under a chugging rhythm of handclaps and Tupperware drumming, “The Last Trick” marries nursery rhyme innocence with Freudian despair while the dizzy jazz-blitzed whirl of “Shock Activities” turns in on itself over and over until the listener experiences something of a musical vertigo. If Alice had any trepidation of discovering the boundaries of her Wonderland, then Garbarek fearlessly jumps down the rabbit hole of her own peculiar landscape, wide-eyed and brazen in her musical approach. The sonic experiments, always beguiling, are never less than credible. Even more convincing is Garbarek’s frothy turn at torch-singing. The flush of glitch-techno that crackles underneath “My Fellow Riders” is adorned with woodwinds that playfully shadow the coos of a 50’s lounge bird. It’s almost as if Julie London had walked into a recording studio with Aphex Twin stationed at the mixing boards.
Again, themes of murder never stray from the mind. The lush and eerily mannered “Can I Keep Him?” chronicles a violent kidnapping. Here, Garbarek role-plays both victim and victimizer, flipping back and forth between stalker and prey until an electronic interlude of angry static signals a mental breakdown. Strangely though, the track is suffused with a sensual warmth, folding in and out until it becomes a fully-realized love song.
An album of hunger, seduction and death, Briefly Shaking offers a musical landscape littered with Disney-fied heroines, dangerous suitors and bleak consequences. If the irony should escape them, then some may be quick to dismiss Anja Garbarek as a sugar-shocked kewpie-doll, singing pop tunes in a Barbie world. But it’s a twisted Barbie world in which a constant turn of subjugation reigns - a place where Snow White can accept a car ride from Dennis Neilsen and then offer him the poisoned apple. Such impressions of foreboding could hold a listener hostage long after the album has been played. Briefly shaking indeed then, but the aftershocks are devastating. - Inside Entertainment

Returning to the theater, singer/songwriter Anja Garbarek—the daughter of legendary ECM saxophonist Jan Garbarek—put on the most structured show of the day. Still, the connection to Punktfest was there; Wibutee’s Holte and Kornstad recently joined her band to support a tour promoting her new album, Briefly Shaking (EMI, 2005).

Garbarek's voice is bigger than her diminutive size would suggest, and like many of her influences—Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel in particular—she has a cultivated stage presence.

Hers is highly produced music in a rock/pop vein, but with a deeper sense of feeling and construction than much of the disposable pop of today—especially in North America. It’s a distinguishing point between the European and American pop scenes that an artist like this can thrive—she’d likely have a tough time getting heard on most radio stations in North America. Combining some of the technological elements that were so inherently a part of other Punktfest acts, she also defined herself through stories from the dark side and a personna onstage that ranged from soft to abrasive. While her voice was definitive, there are times when she used it as a more integrated part of the action, rather than riding atop it.

The lighting for all the main theater acts was stunning, but Garbarek’s was clearly tailored to the arc of her show, building to a peak where lights began to flash out over the audience. The five-piece band included, along with Kornstad and Holte, a keyboardist, guitarist and bassist/guitarist, so there were plenty of layers going on behind her. Structured? Yes. Accessible? Yes. But Garbarek is a significant voice on the Scandinavian avant-pop scene, and the fact that she’s had little exposure in North America is criminal. -

A decade on from her startling English language debut,
Balloon Mood, delightfully quirky Norwegian chanteuse
Anja Garbarek returns with not one but two new albums,
Briefly Shaking and Angel-A. To be fair, the latter
contains little in the way of new material and what’s
there is largely instrumental. But as the soundtrack to
maverick director Luc Besson’s (The Fifth Element,
Léon The Professional) mysterious new film, shot in
black and white on the streets of Paris in almost total
secrecy, it is more than up to the task. Given that this
is Besson’s first film without composer Eric Serra providing
the score, there was a certain element of risk in taking
Garbarek on, but Besson is clearly a fan; three songs
from Balloon Mood and two from her award-winning
2001 album Smiling & Waving are seamlessly scattered
among the newer compositions.

Of course, the risk was really very tiny. Not only has
Garbarek been consistently excellent throughout her
career, she also has an outstanding pedigree for this
sort of thing, following as she does in the footsteps of
her world-famous jazz genius father Jan, who has often
dipped a toe into creating musical moods for fiercely
independent European cinema. As they have often
done in the past, father and daughter collaborate
together on a number of tracks, notably on new song
It’s Just A Game with its jazzy but subdued reassurance
that “this is as good as it gets”. Don’t you believe it
though. The sublime No Trace Of Grey is so convincingly
sweet versus sinister that it could well have been
recorded at a teddy bears’ picnic in, say, the bathroom
of cabin number one of the Bates Motel.

Sticking with a murderous theme, the actually quite
frightening Can I Keep Him? (the only song to appear on
both these albums) is written from the point of view of
serial killer Dennis Nilsen who lured several young men
back to his home in Muswell Hill, north London (just round
the corner from Wears The Trousers HQ!), and chopped
them into pieces. It’s a towering example of Garbarek’s
skill as a writer, first as she plays with the lost pet
interpretation of the title and then, as Nilsen kills, the
previously serene instrumentation explodes into beats
so harsh and aggressive that it sounds like a trio of type-
writers at war. Being taken inside the head of a mass
murderer is rarely an attractive listen, but Garbarek’s
portrayal is up there with Sufjan Stevens’ John Wayne
Gacy Jr. in its almost sympathetic exploration of its
subject, conveyed by lines like “he’s still warm and close
to me / I can see tears in his eyes / and I feel better”.

It’s little wonder, then, that Garbarek has since remarked
that she should have called the album Beauty & The
Beast instead of Briefly Shaking. That title comes from
the chorus of the excellent first single The Last Trick. With
its dark lyrical content, candied vocals and unsettlingly
perky backing — tambourines, handclaps, accordion and
brass included — it was written as Anja was struggling
with her muse after giving birth to her daughter and could
well have been her swansong had it not been for the
thunderbolts of inspiration found in tales of horror and
crime. Sleep, for instance, tells the story of a woman
who was kidnapped and locked in an underground bunker
but works equally well as a metaphor for her creative

The most keenly felt difference between Smiling &
Waving and Briefly Shaking lies in the addition of drums,
particularly on songs like Dizzy With Wonder, a thunder-
ously intense and dramatic number in which Garbarek
plays the role of an observer surveying some twisted,
post-industrial landscape, and Shock Activities, with its
slightly overblown kickass rock bits and unexpected mid-
song shift into a cod-Gwen Stefani breakdown but with far
greater charm. Other highlights include My Fellow Riders,
with its piping keys and gently throbbing electro pulses,
and This Momentous Day, an ecstatically unpredictable
monster that juxtaposes flute and strings with grinding
guitars and coolly passionate vocals.

Having said all that, while Briefly Shaking is easily
Garbarek’s darkest album to date, it is also her most
accessible and lavish. Motherhood certainly hasn’t
reined in either her knack for telling unusual stories or
her beguiling way with a drop-dead gorgeous melody.
Considering that she doesn’t play a single instrument
yet still can pen such epic compositions, her achieve-
ments are simply astounding. She may not be the most
prolific of artists, but with every release improving on the
last, seemingly unbetterable album, it’s only a matter of
time before her brilliance is properly acknowledged. File
between Laurie Anderson and Björk and play with an
alarming regularity. - wears the


1992: Velkommen Inn
1996: Balloon Mood
2001: Smiling & Waving
2005: Briefly Shaking
2006: Angel-A Soundtrack


Feeling a bit camera shy


Anja Garbarek hates to be predictable. "I like to take dark lyrics and put them with comforting melodies and to combine the sugar-sweet and the macabre. Perhaps I should have called the new album 'beauty and the beast'," she jokes.
It's that combination of the instantly accessible and what she calls 'the strange stuff' that has made Anja one of the most exciting voices to emerge from the vibrant Scandinavian music scene.
Briefly Shaking, the fourth album from the maverick Norwegian singer-songwriter, is Garbarek's most inventive and audacious release to date, a collection of compelling stories and extraordinary music, full of the dramatic contrasts and startling juxtapositions she so loves.
Born in 1970, Anja Garbarek grew up around Oslo, the only child of composer/ saxophonist Jan Garbarek, one of the acknowledged geniuses of contemporary European jazz. As a child she was surrounded by musicians, but although she always loved music, she never learnt to play an instrument.
Instead, at 16 she went to drama college and imagined a life in theatre and film. But music was clearly in her blood. At college she sang in a stage musical which brought her to the attention of the Norwegian record industry and she was offered a deal. The result was her debut album, 1992's Velkommen Inn' (Come On In). A concert tour followed and it became obvious she was a natural performer with a unique talent.
Her second album, Balloon Mood, appeared in 1996, a more ambitious work recorded with Massive Attack/ Bjork/ Madonna producer Marius DeVries.
One year later she moved to London - "something I had to do to grow-up" she says - and signed to Virgin Records. Her debut for the label, Smiling & Waving, was released in 2001 with contributions from Talk Talk's Mark Hollis and Robert Wyatt amongst others. The album garnered rave reviews for its bold combination of electronic samples and acoustic instruments and her ethereal, other-worldly voice.
Finally four years later comes the much-anticipated follow-up, Briefly Shaking. Such gaps between records are standard for Garbarek. "Think of a painter having an exhibition. It can't be rushed. Making an album is like that for me."
Yet if four years is the average time Garbarek takes between records, the period since Smiling & Waving has been a particularly intense one for her. She became a mother and in 2003, the family moved back to Norway, experiences that have had a powerful influence on Briefly Shaking.
"Having a child was wonderful, but it changes your life," she explains. "You can't be so self-centred any more and as an artist that affects your creative core. I felt my creativity was being suppressed. You lose yourself when you give birth. It turns your life upside down and it's fantastic, but it's frightening at the same time."
Eventually, Garbarek began to write a set of lyrics that reflected her feelings. "I was reading a lot of books about crime and horror and that seemed to give me the dark language I needed to express myself."
For her, songwriting has always begun with the lyrics. "Words have their own sound and rhythm and create an atmosphere," she explains. "So I started using these words and sentences and metaphors to create a set of stories. To me, the music is the soundtrack to the stories I'm trying to tell and they become part of the story."
As soon as she began to write, she immediately felt better about her circumstances. "I felt like I was coming back to life," she says.
Garbarek's songs have always walked on the dark side. But the stories she tells on Briefly Shaking are surely the darkest yet.
Sleep is based on the true story of a woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned in an underground bunker. When Anja had written the song, she realised it was also a metaphor for her own predicament. "It's me in that bunker," she says. "It's about will I be able to get out and be born again."
Can I Keep Him was inspired by reading a book about the mass murderer Dennis Nielsen, while The Last Trick was written at a particularly dark moment. "I thought it was going to be my last ever song. Literally my last trick," she says. The song also contains the line that gave the album its title.
Once she had her stories, she had to construct what she calls the 'soundtrack' to them. Because she doesn't play an instrument, Anja believes she approaches music in an unusually open-minded way. "I don't really know what's possible and what isn't so I'll try things that you're not meant to do."
Key to realising her vision was Gisli, a multi-talented Icelandic-Norwegian artist whose debut album was released on EMI in 2004. "I met him by accident when I was checking out some studios," Anja recalls. "But he was my rescuer and I knew from the first note I heard of his music that I had to work with him."
Another important collaborator was Anja's father. "When it comes to the big stuff like strings and saxophones I've always worked with him. That's my favourite part of making