Mark Eitzel/Anja Garbarek, Purcell Room, London

Not waving but drowning
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The Independent Culture

I suppose it's only natural that the daughter of the Norwegian jazz virtuoso, Jan Garbarek, should tread an experimental path. Her second album Balloon Mood was an eerily compelling collection of songs set against a backdrop of samples, syncopated rhythms and staccato string arrangements. But with this year's Smiling and Waving the singer has tried to position herself in the realms of avant-garde jazz. It is these songs that she has chosen to perform at Robert Wyatt's Meltdown and, when played live, they just don't come together.

All glammed up in a Doris Day-meets-Cherie Blair polka dot dress, Garbarek stands demurely centre stage, her cherubic face creased earnestly. Her band have dressed up for the occasion too, though possibly not by choice judging by their grumpy demeanours. Garbarek's determination to throw in every possible embellishment, bar the kitchen sink, results in an assault-course of sound that proves hard to navigate. Clarinets, saxophones, guitars and strings are randomly juxtaposed with sampled beats, live drums and all manner of percussive noodling. Then there is Garbarek herself whose gentle yet plaintive voice sounds like a small child who has been shut in an even smaller cupboard.

"Big Mouth", a song that begins with Garbarek tunelessly squealing "I've got a very big mouth, a very big mouth with a lot of room for different things" against a discordant double bass, is excruciating and prompts an outbreak of nervous titters in the audience. "The Gown", a song in which there is at least a discernible melody, is mildly better, though the enduring feeling is one of a performer who is trying too hard.

In contrast, Mark Eitzel performs the simplest of sets with only an acoustic guitar for company. Even after fifteen years churning out song after anguished song, the former American Music Club frontman still has no faith in himself. "I asked the lighting guy to blind me so that I couldn't see who was walking out," he says.

Drawing largely upon songs from his latest album The Invisible Man, self-loathing seeps from nearly every song. "Without You", "Anything" and "Shine" are unassailably bleak, each brimming with introspection and isolation. The mood is lightened by some bizarrely entertaining anecdotes in between songs, too rambling to repeat here. The same skewed humour leaks into "Johnny Mathis' Feet" and the excellent "Christian Science Reading Room", a mischievous number about Eitzel and his cat getting stoned and becoming Christian Scientists. It's nights like this that show Eitzel to be one of the most talented and articulate songwriters of his time. If only he knew it.