CHARLIE HADEN — Magico (with Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti) (review)

CHARLIE HADEN — Magico (with Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti) album cover Album · 1980 · Post-Fusion Contemporary Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Steve Wyzard
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SOUND...

Whenever anyone brings up the much-discussed subject of the "ECM Sound", the first album I think of is Magico by Egberto Gismonti (guitars/piano), Jan Garbarek (saxophones), and Charlie Haden (bass). This is one of those unlikely "all-star" aggregations ECM Records specialized in during the late 1970s (see also: Abercrombie/Holland/DeJohnette and Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette). Released in 1980 to minor acclaim, this album today is seen as a forerunner to what we now refer to as "World Fusion".

Most listeners bring pre-conceptions to a recording like this, so let's deal with them right away. The lack of a drummer/percussionist does not make this a "quiet album", especially with Garbarek's piercing (no flute) tones sprinkled liberally throughout. A close listen also reveals this is not a "loosely structured jam session" as much thought was obviously given to the arrangements and double-tracking (especially Gismonti's intricate solo above his playing on "Magico"). While a previous familiarity with the performers will best prepare one for this aural soundscape, this album remains very accessible and was my first introduction to the music of both Gismonti and Haden over 25 years ago.

So what can one expect? Gismonti is the dominant voice both figuratively and literally: like on most of his recordings, "Bailarina" includes some brief ad-libbed vocals. There are a multitude of versions of Haden's "Silence" on the market, but this album's is the finest: 16 repeated chords on the piano above solos by Garbarek, Haden, Garbarek (again), and Gismonti. Garbarek's "Spor" features some of Haden's darkest arco playing, and Gismonti's "Palhaco" with its gospel-tinged piano is the peaceful closer with its other-worldly, haunted atmosphere.

The masterful performances throughout this album make Magico a true highlight in the voluminous catalogs of all three players. Never before has ECM's original motto "The Most Beautiful Sound Next To Silence" been more appropriate. Let it also be known that this same trio recorded a follow-up album (Folk Songs) 5 months later that is nowhere near as good as Magico. And just what is that artful cover supposed to signify: is it trees behind powerlines, or painted industrial siding super-imposed over trees?
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