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Norway's new nightingale

Thanks to her child-like voice and airy-fairy songs, Anja Garbarek is often compared to Bjork. But her jazz-musician father has been her main influence.
There are many parallels to be drawn between Anja Garbarek's aesthetic sensibilities and her music. The daughter of the jazz pioneer Jan Garbarek wears a faded black T-shirt over the top of a delicate silk shirt and a floor-length quilted skirt that could have been an eiderdown in a previous life. Her North London flat is a cavern of conflicting lime greens, oranges and searing pinks, where macabre sado-masochistic photographs hang innocently on the wall between family snapshots and kaleidoscopic paintings.

In accordance, Garbarek's curiously titled album, Balloon Moods, blends bubbly, syncopated rhythms with staccato string and brass arrangements and edgy percussive sounds - light years away from the sax jazz stylings of her father. Garbarek's lyrics recount spooky stories and skewed childhood memories, though they are lent a fairy-tale ambience by her extraordinarily child-like vocals. Imagine JM Barrie's Wendy being accidently swept off to Tolkein's Mordor instead of Never-Never Land.

Garbarek's conversational manner adds to the catalogue of contrasts: her sunny disposition belies the dark, elliptical nature of her recorded material and she talks about her sense of isolation as a child as if she were discussing a day by the seaside.

"I would always go on tour with my parents, and on the brief periods at home, the house was always full of musicians," she remembers. "It was very unsettling. I wanted to be one of those latch-key kids so my dad made me a pretend key to hang around my neck for school." Garbarek is pictured as a child wearing this key on the front of her album.

For most kids, the first glimpses of musical education comes via school chums and television, but Garbarek was an early starter. "I was listening to Laurie Anderson when I was eight and it both fascinated and scared the hell out of me. I used to rifle through my father's record collection and play whatever he was listening to at the time."

But Garbarek was not always an admirer of her father's music: "For a long time I saw his music as being physically painful with all those squeaking and grinding noises. But something happened when I was eight. My parents took me on tour with them in Japan where the music got under my skin for the first time. I suddenly understood what it was all about."

Following this precocious epiphany, Garbarek enthusiastically threw herself into piano lessons at school but found that she was uncomfortable with the teaching methods. "It was nothing like what I had with my dad. It was always about analysing and studying the work of strangers rather than people close to me," she explains. "The fact that I can't remember anything they taught me is quite telling."

Though her voyage of musical discovery with her father never abated, it wasn't until she was 19 that she took up music again.

"I was called by BMG Records and asked for a demo after someone saw me performing in a musical at college. I didn't have one so I took in this tape of improvised noises that I had made when I was 16. I went to the office and put it on and they were absolutely horrified. They told me to go into the studio and record something a little more grown-up."

But it was Garbarek's predilection for experimentalism that really enticed BMG and this is one of the more perceptible traits that has been passed on from her father.

Her debut album Velkommen Inn appeared in 1992, but Garbarek was dissatisfied: "I hadn't discovered my own sound yet and the record company seemed to have more input than I did." As a result, the writing of Balloon Moods sent her scurrying to the Norwegian mountains for a period of monastic musical study.

"I realised that I couldn't work with other people at that point as I didn't want them to inflict themselves on my picture. As soon as I was alone I was inspired to listen and write."

Did her father offer any advice? "Of course," she says. "He has got years of experience - it would be a waste not to exploit that. He can help me out with everything, from how to play a chord to what type of music I should refer to."

On her return, Garbarek requisitioned help from producer Marius DeVries, whose previous credits include Massive Attack and Madonna, to put on the finishing touches.

The resulting compositions takes in constituents of modern jazz, Eighties synth, psychedelia and performance poetry, with melodies that swerve between winsome sonnets and eerie elegies. Her style has already drawn comparisons with Bjork and Stina Nordenstam.

"It is inevitable that people should compare me with other musicians," she sighs. "But I would really like to take music forwards on my own, just like my dad."

`Balloon Moods' is out on RCA records