More than 15 years separate the release of Jan Garbarek's best-selling album Officium from his Officium Novum. The newer release, like the original, features Garbarek on soprano and tenor saxophones and the male vocal quartet, the Hilliard Ensemble. In both albums, Garbarek takes preexisting vocal pieces and embroiders them with his soulful obbligato contributions. The chaste austerity of the men's voices and the reedy plaintiveness of the saxophone make for a surprisingly effective pairing. Garbarek and the singers manage to merge two very different musical worlds without compromising the integrity of either, and that is part of what gives these albums such an impact. The first album used primarily Medieval and Renaissance material -- chants, motets, and liturgical song -- while this second mostly uses more recent source material, primarily from Eastern Europe. In addition to several medieval sources, included are works by early 20th century Armenian priest, musicologist, and composer Komitas; Nikolai N. Kedrov, a Russian composer of the same era; mid-20th century Greek composer Giorgios Sefaris; Estonian Arvo Pärt; and several original pieces by Garbarek himself. Like the first album, this one is suffused with a sense of distant mystery and a profound, powerful melancholy that is given voice with intense feeling. The sound again is spacious and warmly resonant, with an earthy, enveloping ambience. This album will be a must-have for anyone who loved the first one, and it should appeal to any listener with an affinity for meditative Eastern European spirituality, especially when tied to contemporary expressivity and stylistic freedom.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins