(including 10 Best Album Picks)
by Mike Gates
On 8th May 2015, Keith Jarrett turned 70. He is, without question, one of the most important figures in music to have graced the late 20th/early 21st Centuries. The piano, being his musical vehicle of choice, has helped him, and us, re-evaluate the way the instrument is perceived, not only within the world of jazz, but also as a solo instrument with his ground-breaking, genre defying concerts and recordings. Jarrett is also in fact a multi instrumentalist, being a gifted performer on drums, percussion, flute and saxophone, to name but a few additional tools of his trade. Composer, improviser, innovator, legend; all words that can be comfortably used when talking about the man and his music. Jarrett has always strived for a natural honesty and truth within his music, whether through his inspirational, wholly improvised solo concerts, his long-standing ‘standards’ trio, his American and European jazz quartets, or his explorations into the world of Classical music, the same ethos has always applied. Energy, emotion, powerful streams of consciousness; his music flows like an endless river with its many tributaries, twisting and turning this way and that, with an indomitable spirit and a heart-stopping brilliance, never ceasing in its ebb and flow, but always emanating from the same source.
Throughout his long, illustrious career, Keith Jarrett, as leader, has made over 90 albums, many of these worthy candidates for a “top 10” albums list. Everyone will have their own favourites; music, especially Keith Jarrett’s music, is after all a very personal thing. In compiling my “10 Of The Best” (in chronological order), I have tried to choose a cross-section of his musical achievements, some of these based on the sheer gravity of the music being made at that point in time, and some purely based on my own personal and emotional response to the music I have listened to for so many years now. For me, there’s always been something indefinable about Jarrett’s music. Touching, thought-provoking and fully immersive, my own journey through life has been enhanced exponentially by the music I have listened to along the way.
Keith Jarrett’s musical journey began from a very early age. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he had his first piano lesson just before his third birthday and gave his first formal piano recital at the age of seven, playing works by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, along with two of his own compositions. His prodigious talent did not go unnoticed. With encouragement and support from his parents, most notably his mother, throughout his teens Jarrett continued to perform classical music whilst working on his own compositions and slowly but surely discovering jazz, gigging locally around Pennsylvania on piano and drums. At 17 years of age, a musical entrepreneur of the area, Fred Waring, heard Jarrett and arranged for him to go to Paris and study with the famed teacher Nadia Boulanger. By this time though, Jarrett had other ideas, and he took the decision to go to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, before moving on to New York to pursue a career in jazz.
All things are connected….
Whilst in New York, Art Blakey hired Jarrett to play with The Jazz Messengers. Their 1966 release ‘Buttercorn Lady’ provides an early glimpse of the pianist’s attitude and style, with some subtle hints toward the experimental sounds and techniques he was soon to employ on his own solo recordings. During a performance with The jazz Messengers, Jarrett was noticed by drummer Jack DeJohnette, who went on to recommend him to his own band leader, Charles Lloyd. The Charles Lloyd Quartet were in their formative years, exploring open, improvised jazz that stylistically suited Jarrett’s free-flowing musical ideas. I have always felt that the pairing of Lloyd and Jarrett was a fateful meeting of philosophical, musical minds that allowed the creative energy of the band to excel. They toured extensively across Europe and America, winning friends not only among the progressive jazz community but also with a growing 60’s hippie audience. Signed to Atlantic, the band recorded several albums along the way, most notably the wonderful, ground-breaking 1966 release ‘Forest Flower’. The foundations were now already in place for one of music’s longest lasting relationships; a firm bond had developed between Jarrett and DeJohnette, one that was to bear fruit for many, many years to come.
During his time with Charles Lloyd, Jarrett had begun to record his own compositions with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. One thing that is noticeable with Jarrett is that despite his prolific output throughout his career, he has only ever worked with a limited number of musicians. Trust, loyalty and a need for a telepathic-like understanding may have been integral factors in this decision. The Jarrett/Haden/Motian trio released two albums on Atlantic/Vortex; ‘Life Between The Exit Signs’ (1967) and ‘Somewhere Before’ (1968). Both sessions paired a youthful lyricism with free adventurous playing and included standards alongside folk/rock covers as well as originals. More importantly perhaps, the trio formed three-quarters of what was soon to become one of Jarrett’s many career highs: the ‘American Quartet’. As a side note, occasionally during his career Jarrett has been known to release the odd eccentrically eclectic album. Sandwiched in between the aforementioned trio albums saw the 1968 release of ‘Restoration Ruin’, a solo recording featuring Jarrett playing pretty much any instrument he could lay his hands on, even singing, with barely a piano note to be heard…
Towards the end of the ’60’s Jarrett and DeJohnette left the Charles Lloyd Quartet due to financial and artistic differences. As one door closes, another door opens, with Jarrett being asked by legendary trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis to join his group. It was during his tenure with Davis that Jarrett cemented a growing dislike for amplified and electronic music. Ironic really, as this was very much recent Miles Davis territory with the release of the iconic ‘Bitches Brew’ sessions in 1969. Despite this, Jarrett continued to perform with Davis, even after fellow keyboard player Chick Corea left the band, out of what Jarrett has referred to as a deep respect for Miles, along with a desire to continue working with Jack DeJohnette. Jarrett has often cited Davis as a vital influence, both personal and musical, on his own thinking about music and improvisation. He performed on several albums including ‘Miles Davis at Fillmore’, ‘Live-Evil’ and ‘Get Up With It’.
The early ’70’s was a remarkable period for Jarrett. The opening of a new decade brought with it two landmark events that were to have significant effect on the musical direction Jarrett would take, and on his subsequent career. The first of these was the addition of saxophonist Dewey Redman to the existing Jarrett/Haden/Motian trio. Subsequently dubbed ‘The American Quartet’, they were to go on to make two albums for Atlantic Records, one for Columbia, eight for Impulse! and two for ECM. And it was indeed the arrival into Jarrett’s life of ECM founder and driving force, Manfred Eicher, that heralded the second momentous change.
Manfred Eicher explains: “Before ECM, when I was a student and playing in an orchestra in Berlin, I heard Keith Jarrett at festivals with Charles Lloyd and was curious about his playing. When I had the label, I wrote to Keith and sent him test pressings of Chick Corea’s solo record as well as Jan Garbarek‘s ‘Afric Pepperbird’. Keith wrote back that he liked the music and the sound. When he came to Munich with Miles Davis, we met, and decided to make a recording. I’d actually suggested a trio with Jack and Gary, but Gary wasn’t playing bass at the time. Keith said he would like to make a solo record first, which we did in Oslo in 1970. That was ‘Facing You’. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Solo (and some)…
‘Facing You’ released in 1972, is an intoxicating journey of melody and spontaneity. As with many ECM releases that were to follow, it was recorded in Oslo, engineered by Jan Erik Kongshaug and produced by Manfred Eicher. A highly focussed album, Jarrett releases a huge range of emotions, from the delicately graceful ‘Ritooria’ to the flamboyant ‘Semblence’. The eight tracks highlight many of what were to become Jarrett’s solo piano signature sounds… the riffs, the vamps, the spine-tingling depth of feeling, all delivered in a concentrated effort that some believe to be unsurpassed to this day. Clearly a sign of things to come, the album was something of a revelation at the time and a startlingly good opener for Jarrett’s ECM recording career, and the beginning of a blossoming long-term relationship between artist and record label. It was in July 1972 that ECM recorded a live concert featuring Jarrett, Haden and Motian. Left gathering dust in the ECM vaults until its release in 2014, ‘Hamburg ‘72’ is a brilliant document of Jarrett’s first trio – showing all the verve and intuition from three musicians unafraid of courting the unexpected in what is a superb live recording. 1971/2 also saw the release on Atlantic of a quintet album with vibraphonist Gary Burton, the ECM duo album ‘Ruta and Daitya’ with Jack DeJohnette, ‘The Mourning of a Star’, a trio recording with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian on Atlantic, along with the American Quartet’s inaugural release ‘El Juicio (The Judgement)’. Three further quartet recordings were made before the end of 1973, as the band went from Atlantic Records for ‘Birth’, to Columbia Records for ‘Expectations’, to Impulse! Records (where they remained for some time) for the band’s live outing ‘Fort Yawuh’. Making their debut on Impulse!, ‘Fort Yawuh’ is a stunning example of the band’s virtuosity and improvisational skills. Not averse to risk taking and free exploration, the quartet show on this album’s three long tracks just why their music became so revered.
For Jarrett, the quartet at times was a challenge, not just in a musical sense (in an extremely positive and rewarding way), but on a personal level, as Jarrett explains: “Basically, the quartet was an absolutely raw commodity. I was like the road manager, and I was driving these guys around, and Charlie was high all the time, and Dewey was drunk all the time, and Paul was sober enough…If I hadn’t had Paul as an ally, I’d probably be in a mental institution. Ornette (Coleman) said ‘How do you keep Charlie and Dewey in your band this long?’ Because he had them. He obviously knew everywhere we landed Charlie was gonna look for a hospital and Dewey was gonna look for a bar.” Jarrett goes on to talk about the band’s flexible concept; “Sometimes a melody has chords, then Dewey’s solo doesn’t, then you forget what the chords actually were by then, then maybe something happens after Dewey, and then I’m playing on the chords. Or it’s now a ballad. And it was great. But it was very hard. Intense. Very, very hard.” Astonishingly, Jarrett also found the time in 1972/3 to compose and record for ECM the orchestrated album ‘In The Light’, a double album of contemporary classical music with Willi Freivogel and Ralph Towner, as well as guesting on Airto Moreira‘s album ‘Free’, Freddie Hubbard‘s ‘Sky Dive’ and Paul Motian’s ‘Conception Vessel’.
1st Album Pick: ‘Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne’ 1973 ECM
When I were a lad, my Grandmother, or Nan, as we all called her, lived the latter years of her life in sheltered housing; a small yet cosy flat where she could still fend for herself, with daily visits from “home help”. I remember visiting her on one occasion and sitting down with her over the inevitable cup of tea. “So have you been anywhere today Nan?” I would ask. “Oh yes” she would reply, smiling enthusiastically, eager to tell the tale. “I’ve been to California. And Turkey. And Barbados.” She would then spend at least the next half hour telling me all about her trip. She had in fact been watching a travel program on TV… but her mind allowed her to be physically and mentally transported to wherever she wanted to go. A strange analogy I grant you, but this is how I felt (and still feel) when listening to a Keith Jarrett improvised solo concert recording. We are transported to wherever we want to be…wherever we let the music take us. This can be an inner emotional journey or a visualised outer-body experience. Or both.
Who better to explain the nature of a solo concert than Jarrett himself (taken from the album sleeve notes): “The meaning for me is the truth involved in this: one artist creating spontaneously something which is governed by the atmosphere, the audience, the place (both the room and the geographical location), the instrument; all these being channelled consciously through the artist so that everyone’s efforts are equally rewarded, although the success or failure belongs completely to the artist himself. The artist is responsible for every second.”
Listening to ‘Bremen, Part 1’ I find myself sitting on a deserted rocky shore, listening to the waves hit the beach; sometimes crashing with a breath-taking force, and at other times lapping against the rocks with a soothing serenity. The beauty of this music is its ability to transcend time and space, to take the listener on his own personal journey. ‘Bremen, Part 2’ sees me breathing in the fragrant scents of pine and lavender as I stand beneath a waterfall, observing its cascading, timeless, constant flow. ‘Lausanne’ is a more grounding affair, taking me on an imagined journey where I get to see what became of old friends, how their lives unfolded… visions of people like my Nan who sadly no longer walk this earth as they once did… and of passing strangers I only glimpsed, left to wonder on the transcendence of relationships, loved ones, family, friends and people I am yet to meet. Life unravels in its own time, in a different way for each of us. From Keith Jarrett’s fingertips and those black and white keys comes such intensity and mindfulness. Jarrett’s ability to create a melody, a thought, a transformative piece of music goes well beyond comprehension, and on ‘Bremen/Lausanne’, the first of such concerts to be released, and pre dating the more famous ‘Köln Concert’ by two years, we are treated to one of the most enduring, deeply satisfying recordings ECM would ever release. Jazz, blues, jive, gospel, contemporary classical all rolled into one awe-inspiring musical landscape of sound.
A Tale of Two Quartets…
In 1972 Manfred Eicher initiated a collaboration between Jarrett and Norweigan saxophonist Jan Garbarek. The two musicians had previously met during the ’60’s when Jarrett was touring Europe with Charles Lloyd. Initially, two collaborative albums were released; ‘Luminescence’, which featured compositions by Jarrett for string orchestra, with saxophone improvisations by Garbarek, and a year later ‘Arbour Zena’, featuring Jan Garbarek and Charlie Haden with full orchestra. But it was the Scandinavian trio of Garbarek on sax, Palle Danielsson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums, joining Jarrett at the piano and forming the eponymously titled ‘European Quartet’ that created most interest.
Running concurrently alongside Jarrett’s American Quartet, the two groups produced some of the most influential music heard to this day. Jarrett comments on the process of writing for different bands; “The hard part of the quartet situation is not the writing at all- it’s the question of how to make it a personal statement for everyone in the band. In other words, if you take these four people and subtract even one and put a different person in it, the music I would write for ‘that’ group should be different.” He continues; “And if anyone ever does a study on it, they’ll see the American Quartet and the Scandinavian group and even the music I wrote for the trio at the Vanguard- I don’t know if it will ever get recorded- but you could put them beside each other- and even the string music for Jan- and see how much consideration went into ‘who’ was playing.” Jarrett then concludes; “If I wrote the Belonging music with Charlie and Paul in the band they couldn’t be pulling in that way. The language wouldn’t work. If I wrote chords in a certain way for Dewey, for example, and he was playing on the changes, it would be a whole different sound. By Jan somehow changing his language, and the way the four of us played together, that worked.”
2nd Album Pick: ‘Belonging’ 1974 ECM
When I was compiling my list of 10, there were 2 or 3 albums that I had no hesitation in writing down. ‘Belonging’ is one of them. Released in 1974, the pieces heard here have that timeless quality to them that such masterful moments in music seem to have. There is an openness in the band’s playing, a unified sound that resonates deeply with anyone interested in jazz composition and performance. The group only recorded two studio albums, (the other being the 1977 session ‘My Song’), their other releases all being taken from live recordings. Jan Garbarek talks about this; “My favourites are the studio albums. I really enjoyed them. I thought both the live albums, unfortunately in my case, actually didn’t match what we did on a good night, so based on that knowledge of what we could do, I’ll go with the studio albums. Belonging was very special in the studio, we just played one piece after the other, and we recorded the whole thing in less than two hours, one take after another, the quickest recording I’ve ever done. But of course the playing is really, really great.” And indeed it is. I would concur with Garbarek, the live albums, as good as they are, allow for more improvisation from the band as they stretch themselves and take the tunes into new territory, but for me it is the focussed, concentrated energy within the band’s make-up that works so well on the studio outings. Two of my all-time favourite Jarrett tracks grace this album; the stunningly beautiful ballad ‘Blossom’ and the infectiously enigmatic ‘Long As You Know You’re Living Yours’. (Messrs Fagen and Becker of Steely Dan obviously felt the same of the latter tune, their 1980 track ‘Gaucho’ bearing an undeniable resemblance, one that led to Jarrett successfully suing them with Fagen and Becker having to add his name to the credits and to include him in the royalties.)
‘Belonging’ opens with the playful buoyancy of ‘Spiral Dance’. There is an immediate sense of spirit and adventure here with Jarrett and co seemingly relishing the interaction and music making. ‘Blossom’ is such a gorgeous composition, yet there’s no better example than here as to the importance of how a tune is interpreted and performed. From the opening tender moments of Jarrett’s introduction to the soul-searching of Garbarek’s sax, Danielsson’s empathetic bass and Christensen’s thoughtful drumming, the whole band come together to create a piece of music that draws on an inner beauty almost untouchable in its sensitivity. The bluesy, gospel overtones of ‘Long As You Know You’re Living Yours’ inspire a joyous intensity that allows Garbarek the freedom to break out and shine; no latter-day Nordic melancholy here, just awesome sax playing as Jarrett’s piano spirals and weaves a maze of cascading, uplifting exuberance. The short, reflective title track is an engrossingly contemplative piece that is like exhaling a long, deep breath whilst mindfully marvelling at this simple act. And ‘The Windup’ offers up some life-affirming carefree abandon as all four musicians relish the task at hand, creating and exploring their own musical journey. The album ends with ‘Solstice’, yet another spirited example of a thrilling, daring quartet searching and questioning as they go, leaving us to thrill at the intricacies and nuances of this cohesive foursome in full flow.
Whilst the output of the European Quartet was limited to “special occasions”, the American Quartet continued to drive forward as if on a mission, recording three further albums in 1974; ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Back Hand’ and ‘Death of The Flower’, each release confirming Jarrett’s refusal to conform to the electronic/amplified sounds of the era, or indeed any semblance of playing it safe musically speaking.
Like many before me, and hopefully many more to follow, my introduction to Keith Jarrett’s music came via ‘The Köln Concert’. I found the music totally mesmerising; unlike anything I had heard before. I was soon on a Keith Jarrett voyage of discovery. Recorded in 1975, at the Köln Opera House, this record breaking album all began with a little known 17-year-old German concert promoter called Vera Brandes…
3rd Album Pick: ‘The Koln Concert’ 1975 ECM
Who would have thought it? Four decades have now passed since Keith Jarrett and his ECM team walked through the doors of the Köln Opera House to perform and record a solo improvised piano concert in front of a 1400 strong audience. 3.5 million and counting album sales later, welcome to the best selling solo piano album – not just in the history of jazz – but in any genre of music. And it practically made Jarrett a pop star! (Not to mention, one would imagine, some welcome financial stability for the ECM label.) Yet incredibly, it very nearly didn’t happen at all. The concert was organised by Germany’s youngest promoter, Vera Brandes. It was scheduled for an unusually late start; 11.30pm, due to an earlier operatic performance having already been booked to take place. Jarrett arrived at the opera house late in the afternoon, very tired from an exhausting long drive from Zurich, where he had performed a few days earlier. He had not slept well in several nights and was having to wear a back brace due to painful back problems. And so one can only imagine his mood when he discovered that the Bosendorfer grand piano he was expecting to see on the stage, was in fact a much smaller, inferior piano in poor condition, one that was only used for opera house rehearsals; a mix-up by the house staff. The piano was tinny, thin in the upper registers, weak in the bass register and the pedals did not work properly. It was left to Brandes, the 17-year-old promoter to persuade Jarrett to continue with the concert. Even after frantic repairs and hours of tuning had taken place, Jarrett was still refusing to play on such a substandard instrument until Brandes finally succeeded in getting Jarrett to go through with the gig. As a consequence of the piano’s poor state, Jarrett adjusted his style of playing during the concert, using repeated rhythmic phrases, almost hammering the keys to give the effect of stronger bass notes. It is to the eternal credit of ECM recording engineer Martin Wieland, who, with the use of a pair of Neumann U-67 vacuum tube powered condenser microphones and Telefunken M-5 portable tape machine, succeeded in bringing out a depth of clarity creating a bright, sharply focussed recording that must have amazed even Jarrett himself. A watershed moment one might say. From this release on his solo concerts took on an almost ritualistic, prophetic-like spiritual meaning among devotees the world over.
The music played on that night was revelatory. Melodic, lyrical, harmonic, meditative, electrifying, beautiful and awe-inspiring; words simply cannot do justice to the emotive power that shines through on the recording. Jarrett takes us on a spontaneous journey, unleashing passages of rhythmic riffs, hooks, vamps and repeating motifs, rising and falling, pulling us through a pulsating 66 minutes, enriching our lives en route. Breath-taking.
The last word on this has to go to Jarrett: “All I remember after the day’s fiasco is taking a peek at the engineers sitting, waiting with their equipment. They had everything ready. And I started thinking, “I’m going to do this.” I remember putting my fist up in the air on the way out [from] backstage. I just looked at Manfred and [said], “Power!” or something. Then something interesting happened. It just seemed like everybody in the audience was there for a tremendous experience, and that made my job easy. What happened with this piano was that I was forced to play in what was — at the time — a new way. Somehow I felt I had to bring out whatever qualities this instrument had. And that was it. My sense was, “I have to do this. I’m doing it. I don’t care what the f*** the piano sounds like. I’m doing it.” And I did.”
During 1975, in addition to The Köln Concert, Jarrett appeared alongside trumpeter Kenny Wheeler on the excellent ECM release ‘Gnu High’, before joining Charlie Haden for the bassist’s own recording ‘Closeness’, (released by Horizon). Jarrett went on to record two further quartet albums with Redman, Haden and Motian (along with guest percussionists): ‘Mysteries’ and ‘Shades’. By the end of 1976 Jarrett was ready to call time on his American Quartet, with pastures new waiting to be explored. But not before the final recordings for this incredible band took place.
Split between Impulse! and ECM, ‘Byablue’ and ‘Bop-Be’ once again play on the strengths of the band’s spellbinding interaction, with Jarrett fully encouraging the other band members – especially Paul Motian – to bring forth their own compositions to the table. ‘Eyes of The Heart’ provides us with a stunning live performance – rarely matched in creativity and panache. It is however, in my opinion, ‘The Survivors’ Suite’ album that stands out above all the other quartet albums, as their piece de resistance.
4th Album Pick: ‘The Survivors’ Suite’ 1977 ECM
“And those that create out of the holocaust of their own inheritance anything more than a convenient self-made tomb shall be known as ‘Survivors’.”
An incredible album of masterful writing and performing, ‘The Survivors’ Suite’ is made up of two long movements; ‘Beginning’ and ‘Conclusion’. As with many of Jarrett’s finest compositions, the range of emotions explored within the music here are immense. Intense, daring and uncompromising, the expansive nature of the work allows the band to produce a soulful, sometimes sombre, yet often exhilaratingly exciting performance. The first piece begins with a spiritual incantation, Jarrett utilising the bass recorder with stunning, ethereal effect as it floats over Motian’s percussive explorations; searching and curiously empowering. Haden’s bass grounds the music deep into the earth as the summoning rises to a fever with Jarrett and Redman, on soprano and tenor saxes, harmonising the opening theme of the piece as a duet. The melody is stark, shimmering with a dark engrossing beauty. Never afraid to use whatever means necessary without being bound by convention, Jarrett utilises many instruments on this recording, including soprano sax, bass recorder, celeste and osi drums. Redman and Motian also supply added percussion alongside their usual roles. And it is a full 9 minutes before we hear Jarrett’s piano embrace the core theme and drive it on with the forceful support of Haden’s underpinning bass and Motian’s slowly building and intensifying drums. Jarrett surrenders to some sweeping romanticism as the tune progresses, with Redman’s soaring sax picking out the melody when he chooses, or leaving it behind when he pleases. All four musicians return to the movement’s main theme, allowing the listener a little time to breathe before the commencement / onslaught of fevered sound that heralds the start of the 2nd movement.
And it was at this moment in time that the Gods of Improv did unleash upon us the gift of Dewey Redman. Jarrett speaks fondly of Redman; “I had heard Dewey play for the first time at a festival, with Ornette. Later, when I came offstage, we walked past each other in the dressing room and we both said ‘Hey man, I wanna work with you sometime.’ And so I called him first and we first played together at Slug’s Saloon. He could be intense. When he was on, he was definitely on.” Jarrett also recalls a time when Redman was ill; “Dewey once called me and said “Do I have a voice?” This is when he was sick and really not doing well, and his son was a big deal. He was right to ask the question in a way because he was depressed and needed some support. I said ‘Dewey, don’t even think about it ever again. That is what you have. It’s yours”. Redman leads the band into a thunderous, deeply intense start to this piece, with the whole quartet, or rather I should say, the quartet as a whole, combining with such power and a strong sense of collected unity born out of chaos, that the earth shatters into tiny fragments before being slowly rebuilt once again from its remaining ashes. Inspired drumming from Motian takes us into a gentle passage of reflection as the musicians calm and soothe, washing away any wounds in a river of healing, lyrical intoxication. The band ease themselves into a lighter, more upbeat mood with Jarrett’s melodic playing encouraging the drums and bass to enjoy the ride. Redman’s tenor sax and Haden’s double bass both solo beautifully, beatifically, welcoming Jarrett’s soprano sax interlude with its Eastern flavours that lead us enticingly into the final feast. Dark menacing overtones take us back into the tune’s core theme once again, with Jarrett’s pounding and Redman’s howling producing a rousing, moving end piece that ultimately provides liberation and reward.
If only more music in this world was like this… So rich and expressive with an unbridled freedom to explore and convey the heart and soul of the music itself, leading us to an uncompromising yet mindful and honest truth.
Far Out – Far East…
1976 was proving to be a significantly productive year for Jarrett. In addition to his quartet recordings, he released the album ‘Hymns/Spheres’, a ground-breaking set of improvisations for its era. Recorded on the ‘Trinity Organ’, the larger of the two Karl Joseph Riepp (1719-1775) organs at the famous Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Bavaria, with no overdubs, technical ornamentations or additions, only the pure sound of the organ in the Abbey is heard on the recording. Many of the unique effects, although never before used, were accomplished by pulling certain stops part way, while others remained completely open or closed. Baroque organs have always had this capability. Regarding the album title, Jarrett makes comment to the word “Hymn”; “Bach always ended his pieces with a dedication to God. In a sense it’s the same thing. If I could call everything I did Hymn, it would be appropriate, because that’s what they are when they’re correct. I connect every music making experience I have with a great power, and if I do not surrender to it, nothing happens. Every time is a gift. So if I want to acknowledge this gift, I would have to call it a hymn.” Jarrett also went into the studio to record the solo piano album ‘Staircase’. Having set the bar so high with his live outings, including the previous year’s ‘Köln Concert’, it was always going to be interesting to see how his next piano recording would be received. One reviewer commented; “One can always admire Jarrett’s lovely tone and flexible touch, yet when he gets stuck for ideas, the repetitions finally begin to grate. Maybe he really needs the stimulus of a live audience in order to get the creative and rhythmic juices flowing when flying solo.” This reviewer, along with the rest of the world, could not have anticipated what was about to follow. In November 1976, Jarrett headed off to the Far East to perform a series of live solo concerts across Japan. The resulting recordings were released by ECM as an unprecedented 10 album box set (now also available as a 6 CD box), taken from five performances, the music within being some of the most astonishingly beautiful music the pianist would ever create.
5th Album Pick: ‘Sun Bear Concerts’ 1978 ECM
“I’ve always liked the essential politeness of the Japanese audience.” remarks Jarrett. “In the earlier years, even if they might have sometimes wondered what we were doing, they are essentially so polite that they would give us the space to experiment. Whereas when I had been trying to do something new in the States, I had people coming backstage and saying, ‘That wasn’t jazz, I thought this was a jazz concert.'” For Jarrett, there is obviously a deep respect for Japanese audiences and culture that goes well beyond politeness. Jarrett himself has often made reference to his approach to performing as being “in the moment”, and this would indeed appear to sit comfortably with Japanese art and culture. One might coin the phrase “Zen and the art of spontaneous piano playing”. There does seem to be a certain resonance here with Jarrett himself; “Those Zen paintings made with one brush stroke after years of meditation, were always very striking to me. They are not touching the page, then they are, then they are not; and that is exactly what happens when one is truly improvising – you are touching the whole thing, and then it’s gone.”
We are fortunate that thanks to the wise people of ECM, the performances heard on ‘Sun Bear Concerts’ were not simply brushstrokes on paper, seen (heard) and then gone. Thankfully the recordings made allow us all to enjoy these Zen-like moments in time that Keith Jarrett created on five nights in Japan. Over 6 hours of music may seem like a daunting undertaking to a new listener, but as soon as Jarrett caresses those piano keys, the listener is with him, in and of that time and space that he inhabits, a different world almost, one that transforms us in mind, body and spirit. A place beyond names, a time without measure, an unreal reality. One where the Samurai warrior meets the Zen Buddhist.
The 6 CD’s (originally 10 LP’s) that make up the box set consist of Kyoto, recorded on November 5th, 1976, Osaka; November 8th, Nagoya; November 12th, Tokyo; November 14th and Sapporo; November 16th. These 5 concerts make up the first 5 cd’s, the set being completed with the 6th cd which features the encores from Sapporo, Tokyo and Nagoya. A truly wonderful, involving and ultimately inspiring set of performances, Jarrett is at his peak on these improvised meditations, releasing a wave of emotion, from quiet contemplation to volcanic eruption and everything in between.
Kyoto (Part 1) begins with such a divine subtlety and grace, it could be music written for the Gods of music. There is a confident maturity and patience to Jarrett’s improvisations, the likes of which have rarely been heard before. Nothing is forced, nothing is rushed – the pianist here is totally at one with his instrument, creating a vision of unimpaired beauty. As the piece develops we are treated to a vision of life-affirming spiritual pleasure and joy. And as the clouds open and we descend back on to this earth, our eyes are opened to truth and humanity.
Kyoto (Part 2) brings forth a more confused state of mind; the music tumbles, twists, questioning as it goes, sometimes surging, sometimes leaping from one moment to the next. It’s as if the performer (and the listener) are striving for something beyond this world that they cannot quite find. Some meaning that stands tantalisingly just out of reach. And in time things move on and the mood lightens, as if to say; don’t worry so much, just enjoy the journey.
Osaka (Part 1) is a nostalgic melody, sweeping us up in its uplifting yet pensive and reflective mood. Memories of times gone by, with loved ones, the sadly departed reborn in their children giving hope to future generations, holding on to things they’ve been taught, treasured and filled with hope.
Osaka (Part 2) delves into a deep voyage of discovery, an exploration of all things real and imagined. Wild, uncompromisingly fraught and energetic, like a child exploring in the woods and then suddenly realising he is lost. Moments of fear, trepidation and concern, before a dawning self-awareness strikes home with an assured vitality and enlightenment.
Nagoya (Part 1) allows us to fly alongside the White-Tailed Eagle, soaring high and gliding in the air currents that enable us to look out on the mountainous reaches that form the high peaks of this earth. Jarrett’s melody flies with us, caressing the clouds lightly before sweeping down to watch the rivers beneath us twisting and turning, dark grey against the fields of green. And as the music becomes more spasmodic and unpredictable, so too does the course of our journey.
Nagoya (Part 2) enriches us with its contemplative storytelling. An extended ballad that relishes every breath it takes. Different notes taking different paths that enrich and illuminate along the way. Jarrett seems to be playing with his heart on his sleeve here, enjoying the freedom to let go with incredible sensitivity and sing his instinctively lyrical songs in such a thoughtful, enchanting and seductive way.
Tokyo (Part 1) engages us in a moving picture book filled with Jarrett’s changing mood pieces as the pianist weaves a magic spell, almost flirting with his audience, taking them first this way, then off in a completely different direction. The changing aura of the music unfolds as each page turns, bringing with it new characters to add to his already overwhelming adventure.
Tokyo (Part 2) is like trekking through the foothills of Mount Fuji; calm and serene yet almost unwittingly becoming steeper and more challenging as time goes on. The beauty surrounding Jarrett’s music becomes gradually more entwined in risk and struggle as we climb and climb together towards the peak, at times battling against ourselves to achieve our ultimate goal.
Sapporo (Part 1) sees Jarrett getting into a groove- reminiscent of earlier recordings perhaps as he uses motifs that repeat and interchange, twisting and turning back in upon themselves like creative thoughts unleashing themselves in a waking dream. The world spins and then slowly unwinds, like a long haul flight travelling backwards in time, punch drunk and strangely cathartic.
Sapporo (Part 2) shows us why sometimes the wind-down is even more fascinating than the wind-up. Colours and textures enrich our senses with just the slightest touch of the piano keys sending shivers down the spine. As with an aftershock or after-thought, the memory lingers long, hanging on to our coat tails as we push on once again, ever striving, ever searching.
Of the encores, possibly the most endearing would have to be the Tokyo encore. The piece itself has since become widely known and it is certainly one of Jarrett’s finest moments at the piano. Encores are the only time that Jarrett would allow himself any preconceived idea of what he might play and often this would just be a particular vamp or hint of a melody that he could then develop. Tokyo encore feels more impressionistic, with an old-fashioned romanticism that softly and surely pulls at every heartstring in the body. Sapporo encore is based on a minimalist idea and the whole piece develops around one note with fervour and a spellbinding quality to it as Jarrett goes ever deeper into the soul of the music. Nagoya is perhaps more ritualistic, with the pianist moving in and around the heart of the tune, in and out of the effortless space that is left behind once the instrument falls silent.
Songs and Hymns…
In 1977 Jarrett went into the studio to record his composition for solo piano ‘Ritual’. Yet this was no ordinary recording, as it didn’t actually feature Jarrett himself at the piano. Jarrett’s music here is performed by pianist, conductor and frequent collaborator Dennis Russell Davies. The Jarrett hallmarks are all there, yet Russell Davies still manages to bring his own character to the recording. As Russell Davies himself remarks in the sleeve notes: “Although I could never, in improvisation, begin to assume his qualities as a creative force, ‘Ritual’ is a vehicle through which I can bring his spirit to the listener. Those who know Keith will hear him in this music—it couldn’t have been written by anyone else.” Meanwhile, Jarrett’s European Quartet featuring Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen were heading back into the studio, about to create one of Jarrett’s best ever selling albums, a recording which in many ways helped further define the ethos of ECM; Open, spirited and artistically balanced with European jazz, folk and classical musical elements blended harmoniously… in this case, by an American pianist.
6th Album Pick: ‘My Song’ 1978 ECM
There is a certain “sound” to a lot of the 70’s ECM recordings. Obviously due to the studio set-up in Oslo, it’s the same sound that can be heard on countless releases by several artists/bands of that era. It is a sound that I truly love; big time. It’s almost raw, allowing the energy of the music to speak for itself. ‘My Song’ has that sound, along, of course, with some of Jarrett’s finest “song” compositions ever recorded. Garbarek’s edgy sax, Danielsson’s deep, woody bass and Christensen’s crisp drums all sit perfectly alongside Jarrett’s bright, breezy piano. Inspired music making of the highest order. Whilst Jarrett’s American Quartet was certainly rougher around the edges and more adventurous for it, this quartet is far more focussed and totally in tune with each other’s movements… more than likely due in no small part to Jarrett’s writing style, but obviously influenced by the character of the musicians and their style of playing. All four members of the band could be equally adept at breaking out into diverse musical territory- as heard on their live performances that were to follow throughout the next couple of years, but here in the studio there seemed to be a much more clearly defined musical path. “He used to like the studio very much”, says Manfred Eicher, whose meticulous approach and naturally gifted understanding of sound and the musicians that make it, helped forge such a successful path for the label. “Earlier recordings that we made like ‘Belonging’ in the studios with great balance and sound couldn’t easily have been made in a live concert. Later on, with the trio, it flew into other directions. He also needs the interaction with the audience, and probably the risk of going to the edge there is more appropriate than being in an intimate studio.” The finished album is essential listening, incorporating many of Jarrett’s trademark styles and covering a wide range of influences from gospel, blues, folk and funk- all rolled in to one tightly knit, collectively gorgeous recording.
The somewhat genteel feel of this session is defined as soon as ‘Questar’ opens the album. The first of six timeless Jarrett originals, the listener is immediately aware of the subtle nuances working with a majestic grace within this lush musical landscape. Garbarek’s sax trades melodic musings with Jarrett’s piano throughout the album, and the opening track sets the tone for what is to follow. I can’t help but feel a warm embrace each and every time I listen to the title track. The music, despite its slightly raw sound, still manages to comfort and console as if made for the personal benefit of the listener, to wrap us up in the knowledge that love prevails no matter who we are and where we have come from. The gentle melancholy of ‘Tabarka’ seems to tell a story filled with caution and a sense of knowing nostalgia. Jarrett and Garbarek once more act as fuel for each other’s fire, with Danielsson and Christensen so solid whist creating their own fluid vibe that grooves and then pauses, listening, allowing the two front men to explore and develop freely. ‘Country’ is perhaps as close as Jarrett comes to making a pop song – in a very cool way. It’s got the licks, the hooks and a laid back “we’re so on it” groove that it’s impossible to ever tire of listening to this tune. Danielsson’s bass solo just oozes life and vitality, everything about this track is pure genius- all wrapped up in a neat five-minute package. The rhythm section once again shine on the effervescent ‘Mandala’ as they run in tandem with Jarrett and Garbarek before stepping back to hold things down whilst the piano and sax go for broke, painting Pollock-like patterns of sound across an expanding canvas. The final track, ‘The Journey Home’ is a compositional masterpiece with its travels taking us through several mood changes, from a sumptuous melancholic muse to a Scandinavian folk/dance melody, before eventually presenting us with one of the all time great changes of pace within a song. The slow section towards the end of the tune is just so cleverly and beautifully implemented it makes me sigh with pleasure every time I hear it. Tender, moving and enlightening music from the quartet, and sadly, the final studio album this foursome would record together.
Although the quartet were never to record in the studio again, what did ensue for the band was a series of concerts, with three live albums recorded during 1979; ‘Personal Mountains’, ‘Nude Ants’, and ‘Sleeper’. These three albums are a wonderful, insightful testament to the strength of the quartet’s development as a live act. ‘Personal Mountains’ is a stunning album, yet was held back by ECM for 10 years before being released, presumably so as not to distract from the release of ‘Nude Ants’. With its lyrical brilliance shining as brightly as ever, the quartet’s performance on ‘Personal Mountains’ is at times jaw dropping. Recorded in Tokyo, Garbarek in particular is at a high point, his improvised, extended solos inspiring the group to explore new horizons, breaking free from the previously more focussed framework of the studio sessions. All four tracks have a unique drive and vision to them, outstanding from start to finish. The Village Vanguard, New York outing of ‘Nude Ants’ has a different vibe to it but is equally superb. The band are again cooking on gas. It’s not just Jarrett and Garbarek stealing the show either, Danielsson and Christensen work so well together there can rarely have been a better bass/drums partnership than this one. The ensemble play the six tracks with an intuitive ease, investigating, probing, joyously reaching out for new heights at every opportunity. A celebration of the human spirit, as well as being a bold and historic statement in jazz terms, this is an album that remains as fresh today as it did at the time of its release. The third live album, ‘Sleeper’ was recorded in Tokyo, again in 1979, but wasn’t officially released by ECM until 2012. All seven tracks embody the group’s fearless, mesmerising explorative qualities as they dance together, beautifully, as willing as ever to create and improvise on the fly. Once again it provides the listener with so much magic it acted as a timely reminder, on its release in 2012, of what an outstanding unit this quartet truly were. Garbarek and Jarrett’s intuition is uncanny, the pair blazing a trail of beauty and life-affirming energy throughout the whole set. A dynamic quartet never to be forgotten. Listening back to these three albums it’s easy to see why this quartet played such a big part in influencing the subsequent path of contemporary jazz.
Between 1979 and 1981 Jarrett recorded four further albums, putting his jazz head slightly to one side for a short period. ‘Invocations/The Moth and The Flame’ is effectively two sides of a coin within one release. Solo piano, organ, voice and soprano saxophone are all employed to create one of Jarrett’s more obscure recordings. A quiet, peaceful intensity prevails on ‘G.I. Gurdjieff: Sacred Hymns’. None of the usual Jarrett trademark flourishes here, just a humbling authority as he performs Gurdjieff’s music. Delving deeper into classical music territory, ‘The Celestial Hawk’ features music composed by Jarrett and performed live at Carnegie Hall with orchestra conducted by Christopher Keene. Jarrett’s piano playing is free and spirited, akin to his solo performances, but with the scored orchestrations pivotal in creating a more structured sounding three movement piece that delivers a slightly cinematic, uplifting and engaging soundscape. Perhaps one of Jarrett’s lesser known solo piano performances, the 1981 ‘Concerts’, is arguably also one of his best. Later in life, through the 90’s and beyond the turn of the century, Jarrett’s performances inevitably matured, focussing more on touch and an inward looking feel, rather than on the more melodic vibrancy of his youth. A natural progression, and there are many elements to both his earlier and later works that bring much to admire. ‘Concerts’ seems to sit between these two outlooks (although that really is simplifying it down way too much), with the early to mid eighties feeling like a transitional period for the improviser/performer, allowing the listener to enjoy the best of both worlds. A stunning release and yet another example of Jarrett’s virtuosity on a grand scale.
Setting The Standard…
Keith Jarrett: “In Japanese flower arranging, two flowers is wrong, four flowers is wrong. Three flowers is OK.”
In 1977, bassist Gary Peacock was planning the ECM trio session that would go on to be released as ‘Tales of Another’. Peacock had been somewhat out of the loop for a while. “I knew I wanted Jack,” he recalls, “but I wasn’t sure about a pianist. I hadn’t heard Keith. So I asked Manfred to send me some of his music.” As a result, Peacock made the necessary arrangements and played with Jarrett for the very first time on this album’s session. He approached the pianist soon after about some touring, but Jarrett declined, preferring at the time to focus his energy on solo concerts. Then, a few short years later, as Peacock recalls; “I got a call to do an album of standards with Keith. I was teaching at the Cornish College of Arts in Seattle, and I was using the American songbook as material for theory and ear training. The idea of performing standards didn’t really excite me. At the same time, it was Keith who was asking. My sense was that he must mean something more. We had dinner and Keith cleared the air, said that this wasn’t just an opportunity to show off, that he really wanted to get into the music. So we went in to do just one album. And poof, we hit this depth.” Jarrett’s intention was, by turning to other people’s music, to defy the prevailing assumption that artists had to be playing their own. The pianist elaborates; “I wanted to detox the possessiveness thing, I wanted to play something we already knew. These songs have a soul that can be found.” Not only did Jarrett discover the soul he was looking for in the music, but along with Peacock and DeJohnette, he found the true soul of the trio. Everything but “standard”.
7th Album Pick: ‘Standards, Vol 1’ 1983 ECM
That “one album” that the trio went into the studio to record early in 1983 was titled ‘Standards, Vol. 1’. It became the first of many, and was the beginning of what was to become one of the longest lasting, most successful bands in jazz history. “The rhythm section is the standard grouping in jazz,” Jarrett comments, “It’s situated in the centre of the earth, as far as the streams that can converge there from the periphery. So I think a little miracle occurred, and I found two people whose openness was so profound that nothing was wrong with playing any certain way. In every other group I’ve been in, I’ve had to deal with players’ preferences. You’re always subtracting from what you hear to suit the others. But that’s a situation where I’m the leader. What I wanted to find was some way of everyone being a sideman, of eliminating the leader syndrome.” Gary Peacock adds, “Then there’s depth. Depth is a very big variable. One of the first things I heard when we started playing together was the depth. Every single note, the whole being went into it. There were three individuals, but there was one mind expressing itself. We knew that there was something very special.” Jack DeJohnette also reflects “There’s a trust that’s been established over all these years. And there’s also the element of surprise.” Surprise is just one element that shines on this, the trio’s first recording. I will be the first to acknowledge that there have since, in the many years and sessions that have followed, been a good number of albums made by the trio that provide the listener with far more consummate, skilful, innovative and mature performances, but for me, when listening back over their many recordings, this one still feels inexplicably special somehow. The music (and of course the musicians making it) positively glows. They carry with them a remarkable aura. One that cannot be defined, one that binds them together and radiates warmth, passion, freedom and pure joy. And this for me, is what emanates from the music performed here. The band jump straight into it on the opening track ‘The Meaning of the Blues’. The piano sounds refreshingly bright and breezy, the drums crisp and sharp, and the bass has an oh so vibrant feel to it – one that perhaps gets a little lost on future recordings, maybe through the subtleties of sound engineering, or a change in the way Peacock latterly played compared to back in those days, I’m not sure which. The lively, bouncy feel on ‘All The Things You Are’ brings with it a light-hearted pleasure to this listener. Great interaction from all three players, highlighting the synergy and quick-witted understanding they naturally share. The quietly beautiful ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ is classic Jarrett, melodic mastery pouring out into the rarefied air, with Peacock and DeJohnette breathing in the fragrances and carefully blending in their own hues and colourful textures. ‘The Masquerade Is Over’ sparkles with its joyous energy. A raw and uninhibited version of this timeless tune. And then comes the surprise, the most wonderful, laid back yet groove fuelled inspirational version of ‘God Bless The Child’ you could ever hope to hear. The trio simply burn with passion and creativity, Jarrett rolling out the melody like eloquent passages of poetry, hidden depths of feeling and subtlety countered with spurts of euphoria. 15 minutes of splendour that flows with a spiritual fervour, more than dipping its toes into a bluesy, gospel tinged river and leaving us to fully submerge ourselves in the art of the trio.
‘Standards Volume 2’ continues in the same vein. The mood is set with Jarrett’s opener ‘So Tender’ as the session develops into a spellbinding workout of thematic threads and distinguished dialogue between the three musicians. Jarrett’s lyricism sparkles, especially on ‘In Love In Vain’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’. 1983 also saw the trio record the lesser known album ‘Changes’. An apt title as this release sees the trio move into new territory with three long pieces; ‘Flying Part 1’, ‘Flying Part 2’, and ‘Prism’. A much freer spirit of improvisation is at work here, the reflective ‘Prism’ purveying a beautiful charm all of its own. Never one to walk a single solitary path at a time, this year also saw Jarrett perform alongside violinist Gidon Kremer with chamber orchestra and full orchestra on Arvo Part’s stunning ‘Tabula Rasa’. This album launched the ECM New Series sub label, a fitting and momentous release of contemporary classical music.
A Contemporary Mind…
The 1980’s saw Jarrett dividing his time between the trio, solo performances and classical writing, recitals and recording. Throughout the decade Jarrett’s Standards Trio toured extensively, with the ECM sound engineers on hand to record the travelling trio, in the same way that they had for many of Jarrett’s solo outings. Manfred Eicher had agreed with Jarrett right from the beginning of their ECM partnership that the pianist would have total artistic license. This agreement certainly appears to have worked well for both parties, with Jarrett free to explore as many different musical avenues as he pleases, and Eicher (with Jarrett’s approval), able to produce the pick of the recordings with the duo together choosing which ones to release. But as always with Jarrett, there’s often a surprise just around the corner, and 1985 began with the recording of ‘Spirits’, a solo exploration with Jarrett playing all of the instruments, including flute, tabla, various recorders, saxophones, guitar, glockenspiel, percussive instruments, vocals and yes, piano. In the album’s extensive sleeve notes, Jarrett remarks; “Music is the activity of meaning. Musicians can and do fool themselves every day when they say they are ‘making music’. They mean they are playing their instrument very well. This can be done by computers. What computers cannot deal with is value: meaning. Thus: ‘Spirits’, recorded in Jarrett’s New Jersey home studio, with nothing but old cassette recorders, most of the pieces were wholly improvised. Jarrett continues; “Spontaneity is what I worked with. If there is such a thing as cosmic music, that music should certainly be in touch with the earth.” An album of boundless, wondrous expression, ‘Spirits’ is a peak into the unfathomable beauty of creation, with a deep ethnicity and honesty to it. Jarrett later commented; “Since ‘Spirits’, I just don’t feel like a pianist any more. I don’t have to try to use the piano to say what I hadn’t said yet before ‘Spirits’. Now I’m just trying to live in the spaces of the music when I’m playing.”
Back to the trio then, and 85/86 gave us two stunning live performances, released as ‘Standards Live’ and ‘Still Live’. The first album is a gentle, romantic set of tunes that once again gives the listener a rich tapestry of tuneful standards, performed with a growing maturity by the trio. There seems to be a genuine camaraderie developing between the three musicians, seeing them grow in stature and confidence. ‘Still Live’ is one of those albums where everything comes together in the right place, at the right time. This could quite easily have been in my “top 10”, with Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette producing one of their finest ever live performances. It is a truly hypnotic concert and surely stands as one of the finest jazz trio outings of all time. Of the many highlights, ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘Song Is You’ and ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ are instant classics, together with a set of outstandingly performed standards, the trio are raising the bar ever higher with this release. Jarrett sums up his relationship with the trio; “It is a communion between the three of us. That’s something that’s being lost. I have more and more of a realisation that no-one else is confronting this material freshly, or they’re confronting it freshly with no knowledge of how to confront it at all. Without Gary and Jack, I immediately wouldn’t have a trio. That kind of delicacy is more like a tribal language. We all lived in the same tribe long ago and we all spoke this language, and if we don’t play it, the language will be relatively lost. That’s the way it really feels when we’re playing.”
In 1986 Jarrett also recorded the solo Clavichord music for ‘Book of Ways’, nineteen improvisations on this almost forgotten instrument, bringing to life its sleeping beauty. Jarrett immerses himself completely in its sounds and textures producing a richly rewarding experience for a discerning audience. Jarrett describes his 1986 ‘Dark Intervals’ recording as “expressions of energy.” He continues; “I was trying to let energy be energy rather than energy turned into music. The music comes from a deep space and is like a scream plucking at the strings.” A powerful, haunting solo album, ‘Dark Intervals’ was recorded live in Tokyo, this introspective piece meeting with a mixed reception from critics and fans alike. The late 80’s brought us three further excellent trio recordings; the breath-taking journey that is ‘Changeless’, the highly acclaimed ‘Tribute’ and another of my personal favourites, ‘Standards in Norway’. Sandwiched in between was another solo performance, ‘Paris Concert’. The 4 tracks on ‘Changeless’ feel like one continuous meditation, made all the more incredible by the fact that each piece is actually taken from a different live performance. The trio spontaneously launch into groove after effortless groove of captivating music that stands the test of time as one of their most engaging releases. ‘Tribute’ recorded live in 1989, features some wonderful tracks including ‘Solar’, ‘All The Things You Are’, and the enchanting ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’. Almost making it into my top 10 is ‘Standards in Norway’. There are three tunes in particular on this album I would pick out; the romping up tempo version of ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’, along with two ballads. The first, ‘Little Girl Blue’ is heart-stoppingly beautiful, and is a perfect example of just why the Standards Trio garnered such a reputation for their wonderful interpretations of ballads. The second piece ‘Dedicated to You’ is one of my all time favourite Jarrett tracks. Jarrett begins (and ends) the tune with a thoughtful, soulful and achingly beautiful introduction. And when Peacock and DeJohnette finally join in, it’s one of those musical moments of ecstasy. The piece ends as it had begun, it’s just so moving, eloquent and touching. During 1986 Jarrett returned to his home studio to record the musically diverse set of tunes that was to become ‘No End’. Not released until 2013, this is an improvised set which sees Jarrett playing drums, guitars, basses, tabla, wind instruments and piano. Whilst the album does have a certain charm to it, for me it doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot that ‘Spirits’ did. ‘Paris Concert’, recorded in 1988, shows a maturity from Jarrett that is both awe-inspiring and fascinating. The opening piece ‘The Wind’ finds Jarrett in fine form, drawing on his love for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the harmony, disharmony and melodic infusion of styles produces one of his most enigmatic performances. This recording came at a time when Jarrett’s reputation as being a somewhat difficult and idiosyncratic performer was growing in strength, not yet reaching the levels of coverage that were to come later in life, but with more success and exposure there became more people willing to voice their disapproval at his on stage “grunts and groaning”, some of which becoming ever more prominent on his recordings.
1987 was to be the year of Jarrett’s first recital for ECM New Series of the music of J.S. Bach. ‘The Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1’ is a solo piano recording that is pure and unadorned. Jarrett was classically trained as a youngster, and the pull to delve deeper into the music he had been brought up with was becoming more and more irresistible. “The way I relate to it,” explains Jarrett, “is that improvisation is really the deepest way to deal with moment-to-moment reality in music. There is no deeper way, personally deeper. But there is no less depth in working with someone else’s music – having found ‘his’ depth becomes exactly the same. And the people who think the two things are different are going to lose out when they come to listen to one or the other.” Wanting to get closer to the essence of the original compositions, Jarrett performs solo harpsichord on ‘J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations’. Jarrett’s dedication, technique and attention to detail all shine through with a blazing intensity. Bach’s ‘Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2’ is no less masterful. The sheer passion and commitment Jarrett brings to these classical recitals is testimony to his pursuance of authenticity within music, whatever the genre he chooses to perform in. Switching back to piano, the orchestrated album ‘Lou Harrison: Piano Concerto’ is a piece that Jarrett remains particularly fond of. Once again Jarrett’s whole hearted immersion into the music is evident, providing us with another commanding performance.
Bright Lights, Big Cities…
The 90’s began where the 80’s left off and for the trio, it was business as usual. Their live recording ‘The Cure’ features some excellent tracks, the most noteworthy of all being ‘Blame It On My Youth’. The chordal outro is just phenomenal, a magnificent piece of music. The solo piano performance on ‘Vienna Concert’ is widely regarded as one of his greatest achievements, even by Jarrett himself: “I have courted the fire for a very long time, and many sparks have flown in the past, but the music on this recording speaks, finally, the language of the flame itself.” Eloquently put by Jarrett on what is a remarkably sublime release. ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ saw the trio return to the studio, to honour the passing of Miles Davis who died just thirteen days before this recording, with the centrepiece of the album being an 18 minute improvisation simply titled ‘For Miles’. In 1992 Jarrett had a gig at The Deer Head Inn, the venue in Pennsylvania, just 40 miles from his hometown, where he first had a job as a jazz pianist at 16 years of age. DeJohnette couldn’t make the date and so this led to Jarrett and Paul Motian performing together for the first time since the demise of the American Quartet. Jarrett recalls, “I thought, Hmm, there’s no money and there’s no Jack … let me give Paul a call.’ Thus was the Bill Evans grouping of the early ’60s reunited, with Jarrett, formerly the teenage fan, at the piano. “We were going to play three sets, but we decided to play two long sets,” Jarrett says. “After the first one, Paul said, ‘I think we should play eight long sets.’” The resulting album ‘At The Deer Head Inn’ is a wonderful release, yet another one that could easily have sneaked into my top 10. There is something special about it that comes across so well on the recording, an atmosphere, a true sense of enjoyment. The early 90’s was a busy period for Jarrett, particularly with ECM New Series recordings. Following on from another orchestrated piece, ‘Alan Hoyhaness, Piano Concerto (Coming of Light)’, which was conducted by Dennis Russell Davies and released on the Nimbus label, Jarrett went on to focus much more on the music of J.S. Bach, recording ‘The French Suites’ on harpsichord, ‘3 Sonaten fur Viola da Gamba und Cembalo’, a duo with Kim Kashkashian, and ‘3 Sonatas with Harpsichord’, a duo with Michala Petri. More classical recordings soon followed; ‘GF Handel; Recorder Sonatas with Harpsichord Obbligato’, again with Michala Petri, ‘Peggy Glanville Hicks; Etruscan Concerto’, again with orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, and ‘GF Handel; Suites for Keyboard’, with Jarrett back at the piano. Although Jarrett was largely focussed on the music of Bach and obviously put much of his time and effort into these recitals (which largely seem to be received much better now than they were at the time of their release), it is the 1992 recording ‘Dmitri Shostakovich; 24 Preludes and Fugues op.87’ that is my own favourite from this period in Jarrett’s history. Jarrett comments on the process he went through with Shostakovich; “I’ve had all kinds of experiences. With the Shostakovich I just played it and played it and played it. When I realised I was going to record it, I had to say to myself, wait, I’ve got to find an edited version of this with fingerings! Because what I normally do is find different fingerings every time I play, probably. I just improvise that part of it. It works sometimes, but it doesn’t work in the studio, when you don’t want to do a second take. So I went through three different editions of the Shostakovich and ended up with absolutely no fingering, the Urtext, with no fingerings at all and that’s always what I prefer in the end. With the Bach, I don’t even like making a mark on the page.” Jarrett’s enthusiasm for the music comes over on the recording and his interpretation remains one of my favourites to this day.
8th Album Pick: ‘Bridge of Light’ 1994 ECM
Keith Jarrett’s work as an orchestral composer had been heard on previous recordings, but this release, for me, is the one where it all worked stunningly, with Jarrett finally able to channel his vision into the world of orchestral music. Jarrett writes in the sleeve notes; “All of these pieces are born of a desire to praise and contemplate rather than a desire to ‘make’ or ‘show’ or ‘demonstrate’ something unique. They are, in a certain way, prayers that beauty may remain perceptible despite fashions, intellect, analysis, progress, technology, distractions, burning issues of the day, the un-hipness of religion or faith, concert programming and the unnatural scene of art; the market, lifestyles etc.” He goes on to say; “I am not attempting to be a composer, I am trying to reveal a state I think is missing in today’s world (except perhaps in private): a certain state of surrender: surrender to an ongoing harmony in the universe that exists with or without us. Let us let it in.” From a listener’s point of view, surrender is a good word to describe the state of mind one sometimes needs with Jarrett’s music- especially in this case. If one listens to this music, on its own terms, without thinking of who the composer is, why it was made, where has the jazz gone, etc, etc, the rewards are vast. Thomas Crawford conducts The Fairfield Orchestra, featuring Michelle Makarski on violin, Marcia Butler on oboe, Patricia McCarty on viola, and the composer himself on piano. The recorded sound, as ever with ECM (New Series on this occasion) is incredibly clean and precise, allowing the depth of the orchestra to shine through. ‘Elegy for Violin and String Orchestra’ was written for Jarrett’s maternal grandmother and is a moving and inspired piece of music. The violin truly sings above the sweeping romanticism of the orchestrated score. This is music to make you weep in one moment, and feel reinvigorated the next. The ‘Adagio for Oboe and String Orchestra’ is equally magnificent, you can hear the Jarrett melody lines breaking through, creating its own pastoral splendour. ‘Bridge of Light for Viola and Orchestra’ is reminiscent of a late Vaughan Williams piece, getting to the very heart of the diversities that nature gifts us. Jarrett himself features on ‘Sonata for Violin and Piano’, his piano style harking back to his early solo concerts. Jarrett speaks of this piece in the sleeve notes as “One of those pieces that tested the speed of my pencil against the incoming flow of ideas.” Four wonderful pieces of music that delight, comfort and enlighten the spirit within us.
11 years on and 10 albums later, from the time of the first Standards Trio recording back in 1983, we could have been forgiven for thinking we’d heard the best from this audacious trio. What more could they possibly achieve? Then in June 1994 Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette walked into the hallowed club atmosphere of the famous Blue Note in New York. They performed 6 sets over 3 nights in front of a spellbound audience, with each night being recorded exactly how the lucky punters heard it. The resulting ‘Blue Note’ box set is one of the greatest documents, not just for this incredible trio, but in jazz trio history.
9th Album Pick: ‘Keith Jarrett at The Blue Note – The Complete Recordings’ 1995 ECM
“The only standards worth setting,” Jarrett writes in the sleeve notes, “are the highest ones”. And in this case, this not only applies to the music, but also to the sound recording made of the trio’s performances over the 3 nights. You can “feel” the intimate atmosphere here, getting a real sense that the audience know they’re listening to something special, that they’re an integral part of this performance, the recording being so good that listening to this music, we feel a part of it also. Jarrett, and the people close to him, have always spoken of how he needs an audience; hard to comprehend at times with his often derided idiosyncratic behaviour, but on these 6 discs it is plainly obvious to be true. One feeds off the other, sharing the passion, living in the moment. With over 7 hours of listening time it’s an impossible task to fully explore what this box set gives us, suffice to say that there are so many highlights we could write a book on these 6 CD’s alone. Therefore I have opted to give a brief outline of each set, focussing perhaps on one tune, as a taster as to the beauty that lies within these sessions.
First Set, Friday June 3rd (CD1):
The ground covered by the trio on all the sets is quite remarkable. This first begins in rousing fashion with Dave Brubeck‘s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ before moving into a heartbreakingly gorgeous take on George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘How Long Has This Been Going On’. One thing the trio have always succeeded in doing is to bring out the best in a tune, making it their own. On these recordings you can hear their personalities come through in the music they’re playing; music they’ve lived with, learnt from and either left respectfully untouched or thoughtfully reinvented. Standards feature mostly, as ever, with pieces by Charlie Parker, JJ Johnson and a Jarrett original, the beautiful ‘No Lonely Nights’. The tune that gets me time and time again though, is another Charlie Parker piece; ‘Partners’. From Jarrett’s bluesy opening, Peacock’s walking bass that simply drives the tune, and DeJohnette’s effortlessly swinging drumming, this is classic trioism. A vibrant solo from the bassist takes us into drum break territory before Jarrett takes the tune on, working in his own compositional ideas, bobbing and weaving towards its conclusion.
2nd Set, Friday June 3rd (CD2):
Featuring, among others, tunes by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, Mercer Ellington and Ted Parsons, and Sonny Rollins, this set has a thoughtful sentimentality to it, with the tender ‘Everything Happens to Me’ and a wonderful, slow, patient, softly spoken version of the classic ‘Skylark’. But it is Frank Loesser’s ‘If I were A Bell’ that is most striking. Jarrett brings a yearning melancholy to the tune, as if reaching out from within, in a longing, hopeful way. A lovely solo from Peacock leads into Jarrett opening up with an emotionally pleading sincerity. The set finishes with the bluesy, gospel sounding ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’, with the trio’s energy and humour shining through for all to witness. Playful and joyous, we are treated to a great Peacock solo, digging into the essence of this piece with an indefinable ease. DeJohnette sparkles, such incredible touch and feel, as the tune brings a close to the first night’s performance.
First Set, Saturday June 4th (CD3):
Saturday’s set kicks off with what has to be the definitive version of ‘Autumn Leaves’. An oft played tune from the trio, over the years Jarrett enthusiasts have witnessed several versions and takes on this standard of standards, but here, at an incredible 27 minutes running time, the tune is explored in such an inquiring, respectful yet open way that it feels fresher than ever. As the piece develops we get to witness some of the trio’s best improvising our ears could wish for. Jarrett’s piano sings with an effervescent spirit, Peacock and DeJohnette thriving in the thrill of it all, coming together as the driving force that has them swinging, improvising and taking the tune to a place rarely heard previously. A stunning performance that sums up exactly what the art of the trio actually means. Jarrett plays with tenderness on the lovely ‘Days of Wine and Roses’, before Jarrett’s hard grooving original ‘Bop-Be’. If we were talking in marketing speak, this trio’s Unique Selling Point has to be their ability to take a standard and move it on into something completely new. On ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ they do just that, DeJohnette on this occasion offering the bridge that allows the pianist the freedom to create something wonderful spontaneously around the vibe that the standard was based on, ending up with ‘Muezzin’ – Truly awesome. The divine ‘When I Fall In Love’ brings this set to a close.
2nd Set, Saturday June 4th (CD4):
Saturday’s 2nd set kicks off in style with Irving Berlin’s ‘How Deep Is The Ocean?’. The trio are in superlative form here, seemingly enjoying their surroundings to the full, the music at hand throughout this set dancing and spinning with raw energy. Ellington and Parsons’ ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’ and the Buddy Kaye and Billy Reid tune ‘I’ll Close My Eyes’ both feature strong performances from the threesome. For me though, the highlight of this set is undoubtedly the incredible 27 minute long journey that begins with the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne standard ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’, before morphing into the improvised piece ‘The Fire Within’. The trio are indeed on fire here, creating one of my all time favourite tracks. Full credit must go to all three musicians, this is a stunningly spiritual adventure where the trio are all occupying the same vibe and play off each other’s spontaneity with such skill and passion that we can’t help but feel the kinetic energy buzzing between them; truly mesmerising.
1st Set, Sunday June 5th (CD5):
Anyone wishing to hear a piano trio at their best need only to listen to Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette performing Hart and Rogers’ ‘My Romance’, the 2nd piece on this disc. Point the listener in this direction and they’ll witness a trio at their peak, in full flow creatively yet with a sensitivity and understanding that captures the true essence of the song. Once again the interaction between piano, bass and drums is totally captivating, their empathy and intuition there for all to hear. Before this tune, the set begins with the Kaper and Washington standard ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ which undergoes a transformation into Jarrett’s improvised ‘Joy Ride’; and that it is. With great variation and aplomb the trio work their way through Cole Porter’s ‘You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To’ and the wonderful ‘La Valse Bleue’ by Robert Wilbur. This set is rounded off with the coolest of takes on Thelonious Monk’s classic ‘Straight, No Chaser’.
2nd Set, Sunday June 5th (CD6):
This stunning box set draws to a close with the final set, featuring four further beguiling standards and one hypnotic Jarrett original. I particularly enjoy the light, airy feel to the Jules Styne, Sammy Cahn tune ‘Time After Time’. There’s another take here of Jarrett’s interpretation of Charlie Parker’s ‘Partners’, along with the thrilling finale, a joyous celebration, Ralph Freed and Burton Lane’s ‘How About You?’ Yet ironically, sitting between the many standards, it is the half hour tour de force of Jarrett’s improvised original, ‘Desert Sun’ that is most striking here. A meditative, absorbing piece that gifts the audience a performance reminiscent of a Jarrett solo piece, spontaneously engaging as it builds with both light and shade, bringing a unique perspective to the trio’s skills of intimate interaction. Jarrett spins a mesmeric web with Peacock and DeJohnette, as they nearly always are, so well embedded in the groove of the music it is impossible to imagine Jarrett creating this music without the duo’s collaborative enthusiasm and inspired contribution.
As Keith Jarrett says; “A lot of it is about magic. If you don’t choose the right guys, magic will never happen. A big part of my work is intuition. You don’t need much information or many clues to know if you want to play with someone. If it is really right, then the clues are right in your face.”
Between 1994 and 1996 Jarrett continued with his classical recitals, this time focussing on Mozart, recording two albums, both with orchestras conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. The first of these was ‘Mozart: Piano Concertos, Masonic Funeral Music, Symphony in G Minor’. The second; ‘Mozart: Piano Concertos, Adagio and Fugue’. Jarrett offers an insight into playing classical pieces; “I don’t prepare the way everyone else does. I wait until I hear the orchestra to decide how it is I am actually going to play. So that part is more related to improvising than the way most people prepare. But technically as a pianist it doesn’t move from jazz to classical. It moves the other way. So I can play ballads with more micro variations of touch, now that I’ve been working on Mozart, than I might have had before.” 1995 also gave us the solo concert ‘La Scala’. The music performed here not only shows a tender fragility but also discovers a depth of feeling with an intoxicating intensity. The ‘Over The Rainbow’ encore is hauntingly beautiful. And then it’s back to Japan for another trio outing, the stunning ‘Tokyo ’96’. Recorded in Tokyo’s Orchard Hall in the presence of Japanese royalty, the standards trio more than lives up to its formidable track record of outstanding live performances. The album itself wasn’t actually released for a couple of years, during what was to be a deeply dark period for the pianist.
For over 2 years, beginning in 1996, Jarrett suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an obscure illness that doctors struggle to understand. CFS is a complex medical condition, characterised by long-term fatigue and other symptoms. These symptoms are to such a degree that they limit a person’s ability to carry out ordinary daily activities, let alone playing a musical instrument. The fatigue is not due to ongoing exertion, not relieved much by rest, and is not caused by other medical conditions. Also referred to as SEID and ME, it is still not understood as to why, how, or when it can strike. Jarrett, at this point in time, understandably wondered if he would ever play the piano again. “When I got sick,” Jarrett comments, “after I was trying to recover from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – which shouldn’t be what it’s called, it should be called Death While You’re Alive – everything had to get lighter for a minute. And I couldn’t dig in much, but learned how much was there, at the dynamic level. And some of those things were bebop things, because they have a lightness. They may be fast, but they’re, you know, a little lighter.” Jarrett also talks candidly about the illness and its effects: “What happens to a person that’s sick is that they can’t even do things they enjoy, in the same way you describe a headache. But you don’t have a headache. And that’s really weird for a musician or a music lover. Suddenly, music means absolutely nothing. And I remember sort of philosophically asking myself, and even other musicians, ‘What really is music? I mean, is it important? Does it matter at all?’ And I was in an existential state that actually-I mean, that would be an appropriate question from that state. It altered everything about how I perceive music and how I perceive its importance. And it’s not going to change. I mean, when I get 100 percent well, that’s going to be with me because it’s something, I think, you’re given an insight to if you’re compromised in a way that you never get that insight otherwise. You’re too busy being a player.”
Out of this difficult period came the album ‘The Melody At Night With You’. Recorded in his home studio, this is a solo set of standards played simply, without any embellishments. Jarrett talks about the album; “I had to change everything about my approach before I could even start to play again. And “The Melody At Night, With You” was- is never going to be- there won’t be another recording that’s more important to me, in many ways. But one of them that I can explain easily is that I had not played for a long time. And I didn’t know if I would ever play again. And when you’re- it’s something I did since I was three years old. So when I was able to sit at the piano without being sick and play a little bit, there was a way of dealing with economy that is way past anything I can imagine doing when I’m well. It’s hard to describe. It’s almost like the disease made it possible to deal with the skeleton instead of the surface, you know- just the heart of things, because there was no energy for more than that.” Jarrett himself tells the story of the album: “You probably know the story that it wasn’t meant for release, and it was as a Christmas present for my wife. But if you don’t, that is the story. I couldn’t leave my house, so I- and I couldn’t go buy anything or, you know, get a present. So I realised all I had to do was – simple sounding, but not so simple- turn on the tape recorder. Luckily, I had set mikes up over a long period of time, looking for the right spot; looking for the right mikes; thinking a little bit ahead. After I got sick, that was one of the things I could just do for a few minutes a day in case I had music that I wanted to record and couldn’t leave the house. And so when I started doing it, the songs came to me because of the lyrics. So when I was playing these melodies and songs, I was definitely singing them inside. And I would never have chosen some of these songs – but they popped into my head because of the context I was in. And it was a present, so it was a very personal thing to give.”
Fortunately, despite Jarrett being “written off” in no uncertain terms by some music critics, the pianist entered a period of recovery that eventually saw him return to normality. Jarrett adds one further comment about ‘The Melody At Night, With You’, “Some people made the mistake of thinking they were hearing the sickness. They think it’s pale or something. But the record was actually a celebration of my recovery. I was in a state of grace. I was connected to the heart of the songs.”
Somewhere Over The Rainbow…
By 1999 Jarrett was back on the road with his Standards Trio. Recorded live in Paris, ‘Whisper Not’ welcomes in a new era of sustained, concentrated touring for the trio. There is a new energy here, which sees Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette focussed and powerful, truly proving beyond doubt that the pianist had recovered fully from his illness. Two Bud Powell pieces, ‘Bouncin’ With Bud’ and ‘Hallucinations’, stand out as particularly energetic and life-affirming. From beginning to end of this two-hour concert Jarrett sustains power and concentration, and his playing has an attractive new spareness and touch that elevates the trio to an even higher plane of their celebrated interaction.
10th Album Pick: ‘Inside Out’ Recorded Live in London 2001 ECM
“Sometimes we have to turn things inside out to see what they’re made of. The process goes on inside and it takes some doing to reveal it on the outside.” – Keith Jarrett
And so we come to July 26th, 2000 and London; The Royal Festival Hall. This album is very special to me for one main reason; I was there. For whatever explanation that I can’t find, up to this point I had never experienced Keith Jarrett’s music “in the flesh”. But on this one summer’s evening, my Dad and I headed down to London for a personal appointment (along with a few hundred others with similar intent!) with Mr Jarrett and his trio in the wonderful surroundings of The Royal Festival Hall. Rarely have I felt such excitement in anticipation of a gig. And boy, it didn’t disappoint. ‘Inside Out’ is a shifting of emphasis for the trio, one which sees them actively moving away from performing standards per se, into a more open, free and improvised setting for a large part of the performance. Keith Jarrett reflects on this in the album’s sleeve notes; “I’ve always been interested in turning things inside out, so I mentioned to Jack and Gary, during a tour in Europe, that perhaps we would scrap the usual format- the whole idea of having to use any material- if we came across a hall or situation where the tunes didn’t come alive at the sound check. This happened soon afterwards and this recording is a document of part of a two night appearance in London. Those of us- like Gary, Jack and I- who experimented a lot with so-called ‘free’ playing in the ’60’s have years of experience to bring to it again.” Jarrett goes on to say; “We need to be even more in tune with each other to play this way, without material; and even more attentive. Every possibility is available if you take away the tunes. It is only our sensitivity to the flux that determines whether the music succeeds or fails.”
No matter how much music we listen to, and ultimately, how deeply we connect with it, there can still be no comparison with actually experiencing music in a live setting. The slogan “Keep music live” doesn’t even begin to convey its importance, but then what can, apart from listeners such as you and I making an effort to ensure the flame continues burning. On this particular evening in London, watching (at first) and listening to Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette, I had not expected the wave of emotion that flowed through me as their performance unfolded. The only way I can try to describe it is that it felt as if the energy emanating from the trio (inside to outside), was coursing its way through my body, a transmutation of heightened sensory awareness. All I could do was close my eyes, and let go. An incredible experience. The album recording itself was taken from two London performances, the one I attended on July 26th, and a 2nd night on July 28th. The only disappointment (for me personally) is that the album feels somewhat truncated as part of the performance has been edited down to fit on a single cd. ‘Riot’ clocks in at just over 7 minutes on the cd, but was actually well over half an hour long on the night. The music as a whole is swimming with the blues, filled with elongated passages of a spontaneous journey in which the trio explore the meaning of the blues, inside and out. As Jarrett also comments; “It should be obvious when listening how important the blues are here. We somehow couldn’t avoid blues language in London, even in the context of free playing; the blues are so pervasive and true. Sometimes we live the blues even when we’re free of the blues.” This is Jarrett like we haven’t heard in years, drawing on jazz and blues history and communicating it in a fresh, deep and thoughtful way. The opening track ‘From The Body’ careers with excitement, with the trio so tuned in to each other it is almost impossible to believe that this is improvised music, such is the intuition between the threesome. The music feels familiar, yet wholly unfamiliar at the same time. As the title track begins (and I seem to remember on the night thinking at this point, “hold on a minute, we’re hearing a completely spontaneous performance here, wow!”), I think that we are experiencing a new kind of free jazz, one that embodies Jarrett’s spiritual lyricism and stirring melody, challenging yet accessible in the same breath. ‘341 Free Fade’ flows and circulates its way beyond its own living, breathing entity, like new blood coursing its way through old veins. ‘Riot’ takes the trio and the listener a little by surprise, with Jarrett vamping a tune with explosive energy, cyclical, twisting and turning, leaving the keys of the piano soaked in sweat and shocked to the core. In stark contrast at the end of the performance, I remember well the noise, the rowdy applause pleading for the performers to come back on to the stage for an encore. They do indeed walk back out, to a thunderous reception. Jarrett walks to the piano and facing the audience holds his arms aloft, stretched out, as if to say (in a very warm-hearted gesture) “Come on people, I’ve given all I can give… there’s nothing left.” But ah, yes there is. And finally we hear the trio play such a breathtakingly beautiful version of ‘When I Fall In Love’ that we are left utterly speechless. True masters at work.
Between 2001 and 2002 the trio recorded five further live albums. ‘Always Let Me Go’ takes the improv attitude of ‘Inside Out’ even further, with the threesome producing yet another explosive performance. Incredibly, this was their 149th concert in Tokyo. ‘Yesterdays’ was recorded prior to the above, also in Tokyo, but wasn’t released by ECM ‘til 2009. It finds the trio back in standards territory and is yet another worthy addition to their rapidly growing catalogue. ‘My Foolish Heart’, also recorded in 2001, this time at The Montreux Jazz Festival, was released in 2009 to mark the trio’s 25th anniversary and proves once again that this is the standard by which others should be judged. “The Out Of Towners” employs the usual Jarrett trademarks yet perhaps offers up a simpler, more subtle set, with Peacock and DeJohnette once more in terrific form, both intuitive and uncompromising. Recorded in July 2002, ‘Up For It’ is a great live set, the ballads showing the trio at their best with the refreshingly tender approach that they have for many years now employed to such gorgeous effect. There’s also fierce excitement and innovation on the sparkling ‘Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West’, perhaps the stand out track from this album. All of these releases are startling in their own way and complete a wonderful period in time for the trio.
2002 saw Jarrett perform his first major solo concerts since recovering from his illness. “Radiance”, released in 2005, is a complete recording from Osaka, along with excerpts from a performance in Tokyo. Jarrett manages to summon an even greater depth of feeling on this album, still obviously full of vigour for such a demanding performance. Jarrett says he wanted some of the music to just “happen” while he sat at the piano. “I wanted my hands, particularly my left hand, to show me things.” The result is an incredible recording that sees several linked pieces taking the musician and the audience on a new and wondrous voyage of adventure. In September 2005 at Carnegie Hall, Jarrett played his first solo concert in North America in more than ten years. ‘The Carnegie Hall Concert’ is a performance of mature integrity and pure brilliance from Jarrett. “There is no change to the plan, there is no plan”, he says, some 20 plus years on from his iconic ‘Köln Concert’. An incredible concert, one that certainly meant a lot to Jarrett; “Carnegie Hall this time was something. It was like a sociological event and a musical event combined. All incredibly positive! I was having interplay with the audience that I’d never had before. Everybody was so up, you know it was like ‘we have to make a sound’. They were making these sounds when they were applauding that… they were like choral music. From some future Kubrick film which won’t happen.” There appeared to be a positive level of interaction between Jarrett and the audience that he hasn’t always had. Obviously on many occasions this relationship flourished beautifully, but there were reports coming out at this time in Jarrett’s career that painted a very different picture.
The Flaws in the Genius?…
Over the years, Jarrett had become increasingly put under the microscope for his intolerance of audience noise. This included coughing, involuntary sounds, applauding in the wrong place or at the incorrect time and pretty much anything that might distract from his musical inspiration and purity of sound. Going back to the London show I was present at in July 2000, there was a moment in between tunes where someone shouted out from the audience “turn up the bass”. Jarrett immediately got up from his piano, walked to the front of the stage and asked “what was that?” The answer came back “I can’t hear the bass.” To which Jarrett replied, if my memory serves me reasonably well; “It’s not that the bass isn’t loud enough, it’s just that ‘you’ can’t ‘hear’ the bass.” There are many examples; during a concert in Paris in 2006 he made an impassioned plea to the audience to stop coughing. Jarrett walked out of the concert during the first half, refusing at first to continue, eventually returning to complete the concert. Three days later at his next concert, an official announcement was made prior to the performance asking the audience to “minimise extraneous noise”. He has also been known to walk off stage because of inferior quality pianos. Cough drops have been supplied to audiences prior to performances and Jarrett himself has been known to stop a concert midway through to lecture the audience on how to cough in an acceptable manner. Perhaps one of the most infamous occasions happened in Italy at a concert in Perugia in 2007. Having politely asked for no flash photography during the performance, and having made himself (with Peacock and DeJohnette) available prior to the music starting, available for photos, when the trio did start and there was a flash from someone ignoring his request, this was his angered response; “I do not speak Italian so someone who speaks English can tell all these assholes with cameras to turn them fucking off right now. Right now! If we see any more lights I, and Jack and Gary, reserve the right to stop playing and leave this goddamn city!” This caused the organisers of the festival to declare that they would never invite Jarrett again. However, in 2013 Jarrett returned to Perugia – only to walk off stage once again when he spotted someone in the front row taking photos. He returned to the stage and ordered all the lights to be turned off… the concert was completed in near darkness, with just a tiny light from Peacock’s music stand being seen. In terms of ‘The Prosecution’, one might say the evidence is before us. How ridiculous and self obsessed can a performer possibly be to act in this manner? In terms of ‘The Defence’, isn’t it natural and the least he can expect from an audience when attempting to create a work of art, in music, spontaneously and totally improvised based on the ‘moment’ and the vibe he is experiencing at that particular moment in time? I believe a key indication in understanding this came during a Paris concert in 2014. Jarrett was in the middle of lecturing the audience for the second time that evening about remaining quiet when he raised his hands and left the stage after a British member of the audience told him to stop lecturing and go back to playing music. After 10 minutes of imploring ovation Jarrett came back on and tried to reconcile with the audience. However, a French teenager then began swearing at him and he immediately left the stage to boos and multiple walk-outs. When he did re-emerge 15 minutes later, he appeared to be choked with emotion and was heard to say “I no longer have any music to give.” And surely that’s the point. If Jarrett, or indeed any performer of similar nature, works off emotion, if the emotional response to an evening is positive then great, but if the experience is negative then all that energy is going to get channelled in the wrong way, leaving him exhausted before he even starts.
Old Friends, New Times…
Charlie Haden hadn’t performed with Jarrett since the “American Quartet” days. Jarrett did an interview for the documentary ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ and Haden asked Jarrett “Would you be willing to talk?” “Yeah” said Jarrett, “but I don’t want to play.” The pianist explains; “I don’t believe I got to know Charlie until he was straight. When he was straight, he came up to me and said ‘I’m sorry man, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how you did it Keith. Now I know what you were dealing with.’ And I said ‘Well, maybe!’ But we’ve gotten to know each other really well since then in the last couple of years.” Jarrett had also said previously of Haden; “It’s his ears. And his sound is so specifically grounded and his intonation so good. Charlie’s unique. In the American group, they had to be listeners, and they had to be uniquely themselves. And they had to be masterful players.” And so, following the documentary, Haden visited Jarrett, with bass in tow… just in case. “So he brought his bass, put it in the control room, and we went in and talked.” Jarrett reminisces, “And after we finished talking I said ‘You wanna play?'”. As they played, a natural bond (one that I guess must have been there all along) took place, and the old friends had rekindled a mutual respect and enjoyment playing together. The duo’s 2007 release ‘Jasmine’ was born out of Haden’s four-day stay at Jarrett’s home, recorded in the pianist’s Cavelight studio. The album radiates a genuine warmth, not just for the chosen tunes, but towards each other. They genuinely sound like any ego that might have pervaded has been well and truly left by the roadside, creating a distinctive, skilful, and very pleasing album.
Towards the end of 2008 Jarrett returned to Paris and London for two solo concerts, just five days apart. The resulting 3 CD album ‘Paris/London: Testament’ supplies us with some of the most exploratory, improvised solo music Jarrett has performed in years. Jarrett talks about the London concert in particularly fond terms; “I had this stupid Db Major thing… I’ve said before that I don’t want to have any thoughts in my head, but this one was just not going away. And it wasn’t enough of a musical thought to call it musical. It was just that somehow or other I felt that I just better get it out, whatever it was. And so, in the London concert there was a unique beginning. It’s not gradual like the old solo concerts were. It’s more like ‘Go!’ This was something mysterious, like cellular construction.” The music played throughout Paris and London is fierce and typically uncompromising, bringing with it the huge range of emotional involvement that Jarrett’s best works do. A similar thing could be said of the 2009 trio recording ‘Somewhere’. Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette are once again on top form, with the album being released in 2013 to celebrate their 30 year landmark. Even at this stage in their careers they take no prisoners, performing with an awe-inspiring energy and freedom. The 2011 solo concert ‘Rio’, whilst not entirely leaving behind the darker overtones of ‘Paris/London’, does develop a lighter, brighter feel, in tune with its surroundings.
ECM released a further Jarrett and Haden duo album, ‘Last Dance’ in 2014. The 9 tunes are taken from the same 2007 sessions made at Jarrett’s Cavelight studio. Once again the chemistry between the two musicians is clear for all to hear, with the relaxed atmosphere obviously assisting in what is another masterful recording.
And so we find ourselves in the year 2015, with Keith Jarrett reaching the milestone of his 70th birthday. To celebrate this, ECM released two new albums; ‘Creation’, Jarrett’s first solo release since 2011’s “Rio”, and the classical pieces “Barber and Bartok Concertos”. Here, Jarrett continues his relationship with the great composers, producing a strong and lyrical performance. The recordings for this release were actually made in the mid ’80’s. The first section is the Samuel Barber Piano Concerto op.38 in three movements, recorded in June, 1984 at Saarbrüken with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrüken under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies. Piano Concerto No.3, also in three movements, was recorded in January, 1985 in Tokyo with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra under the guidance of Kazuyoshi Akiyama. Overall, though perhaps not a Jarrett classic, these recordings still make for a welcome addition to the collection. There are however moments of genuine magic on ‘Creation’. A fitting title, it’s difficult not to get all sentimental when listening to this album. The passion and endlessly creative essence of Jarrett’s work remains, even after all these years. Taken from six different concert performances throughout 2014 – drawn from recordings made in Japan, Canada and Europe – these have been carefully edited to make up a nine part suite that actually sounds like one single, flowing set. The trademark motifs are still evident as we are reminded, not only of days gone by, but of how Jarrett manages to remain “in the moment”, even on these shorter improvisations. The pervading feel of the album is one of quiet contemplation, played with a meditatively melodious approach. One only needs to listen to the romantic lyricism of ‘Part V’ to know in an instant that Jarrett can still make music like no-one else; utterly compelling and astonishingly beautiful.
Mind, Body and Soul…
As I alluded to in my introduction, my own personal journey through life’s joys, trials and tribulations has often been accompanied by Keith Jarrett’s music, providing me with something of a backdrop to the changes and rituals that make up daily life. Through his music, I have encountered states of grace and understanding that very few influences of any kind in life can provide. And so to the man himself, I would simply like to say “Thank you.” To embellish this sentiment is not necessary. At a recent concert in New York, Jarrett stopped midway through the performance to announce; “I want to thank all of you for following my work. Here’s the big deal that nobody seems to realise: I could not do it without you.”
Keith Jarrett: In search of the perfect e minor chord by Josef Woodard
The Keith Jarrett Interview by Art Lange
Interview by C.B. Liddell
The insanity of doing more than one musical thing by Ted Rosenthall
Interview with Keith Jarrett by Peggy Sutton (BBC)
Living With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Interview by Terry Gross
Standard Bearers. Article by David R. Adler
Kind of Weird: How The Köln Concert made Keith Jarrett a pop star. Article by John Lingan
The Dozens: Essential Keith Jarrett by Ted Gioia
Special thanks to:
ECM Records for their assistance with original copyright images, Aurélie Gérardin for her beautiful drawing, our very own Matthew Hart for his ‘at 70’ graphics and to Ryszard Gajewski for allowing us to use his very special photos.
Happy birthday Keith Jarrett.