Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Jazzy Soundtracks of Sven Libaek

Chances are you've never heard of Sven Libaek, the Norwegian jazzman-cum-Australian film music composer, but you owe it to yourself to become acquainted with his warm jazzy vibes and spacey grooves. Luckily for you some of his work has been collected and/or reissued.

Cueing up bleakly titled tracks as "Dark World" and "Fate of Life" the last thing you'd expect to hear are the beautiful, life-affirming sounds that greet your ears. Libaek shows a knack for writing impressionistic music, arranging it for crack session players and producing it like a psychedelic soundtrack. Some might be tempted to call it easy listening from the Age of Aquarius, but don't be too quick to judge. One thing's for sure though — it's easy on the ears.

A Trunk Records compilation called Inner Space offers a good sampling of Libaek's film work, but it'll only whet your appetite for the soundtrack that shares its title and cover art for Ron & Val Taylor's Australian undersea documentary, which is available from Votary Records. While the Trunk Records CD captured four of this album's best tracks, the Votary release catches all 16 tracks of Libaek's brilliantly mellow, psychedelic jazz.

While certainly attention-grabbing, the photo of the fierce great white shark on the cover isn't particularly appropriate imagery for this soundtrack. The character of the music would be better represented by a school of colorful tropical fish in a dreamy technicolor coral reef. Lilting Brazilian rhythms and echo-drenched production beckon one to dive deep within Libaek's entrancing modal jazz grooves.

Basically, the strength of this soundtrack of '73 lies in its pedigree. First, Libaek provided haunting melodies, then the Norwegian hired the cream of the Australian jazz scene, including Johnny Sangster (vibes and percussion), Derek Fairbrass (drums), Eric Boff Thompson (trumpet), Ron Spillet (bass trombone), Don Burrows and Errol Buddle (flutes), George Golla (guitar), Col Nolan (organ) and others.

Highlights are numerous. "Main Title Theme" and "Inner Space" get the groove flowing effortlessly with an insistent bass line, rippling action on the piano and flowing flute lines. "Music for Eels" beautifully blends wah-wah electric guitar and vibes. The sweet, breezy "Sounds of the Deep" is practically a love letter to ocean life. Other tracks, like "Danger Reef" and "Seasnakes" and "Dark World" tend to be more sinister, but still sound gorgeous and never unpleasant. There isn't a bad track in the batch.

As Sven himself points out in the liner notes, ever since American film director Wes Anderson used a couple of tracks from Inner Space in The Life Aquatic, there has been considerable demand for this reissue. Thanks to Votary, Inner Space can now be enjoyed in its entirety without having to pay top dollar for the now rare LP.

If you enjoy that you'll most definitely enjoy Libaek's Solar Flares, one of the most coveted library music albums ever recorded, which is available on CD thanks to Vadim Music. Like all library music albums, it was recorded for use in radio, TV and film productions and not released commercially. Because of its rarity, Solar Flares has been highly sought after by collectors of jazzy, experimental pop grooves who typically pay top dollar for vintage vinyl.

For this 1974 Peer International Library recording Libaek, a Norway-to-Australia transplant, assembled top shelf talent from the jazz scene Down Under (such as Johnny Sangster, Don Burrows and others).

As collectors know, library grooves are very much a thing of their time (usually a good thing!) and Solar Flares is no exception. Being from the late psychedelic era of funky fusion and progressive rock, the album has its fair share of wah-wah guitar rhythms, Moog keyboards, bubbling bass lines, funky beats and groovy horn arrangements. Plus, Libaek has a legitimate gift for haunting melodies.

Some of these tracks (such as the proggy, energetic "Quasars" and the spacey, sophisticated title track) have turned up on library compilations in recent years, and rightly so. They are outstanding examples of Libaek's ability to juxtapose hard-edged sounds (fuzz-toned guitar) with softer sounds (vibes) in a surpremely cool and laid back sonic world.

Reviews previously appeared on the author's site

1 comment:

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