Keith Jarrett ‘Budapest Concert’ 2LP/2CD (ECM) 5/5

Keith Jarrett’s European tour of 2016 seems to have been something of an Indian Summer for the great pianist/composer/improviser. ECM released “Munich 2016” earlier this year, a sparkling, life-affirming solo performance that ranks highly in a long line of live solo concerts that date back to the early 70’s. Budapest Concert, recorded at the Bela Bartok National Concert Hall, was recorded two weeks prior to Munich and is therefore the second complete show to be released from his 2016 tour. Jarrett’s family roots reach back to Hungary which would explain why he describes this concert as something of a homecoming – also with regard to his lifelong affection for Bartok, and how these factors inspired much creative improvisation.

I find it incredible that after all these years, and having listened to and enjoyed so many live recordings, that I can listen to a new release by the pianist and still be overcome with amazement. Budapest Concert is as inspirational as any of his solo outings, still sounding as fresh and spontaneous as if I had just been introduced to his music for the first time. There’s an energy, a power, a life-force that emanates out from the music itself, at times intensely beautiful, at times insanely dramatic, but always completely and genuinely incomparable.

As with Munich 2016, Budapest is split into parts, twelve in this case, plus the encores. Generally speaking, the first half sees Jarrett in deeper, free-flowing, experimental territory, while the second half and encores find the pianist in a more reflective, lyrical, accessible mood. The music twists and turns in astounding and incomprehensible ways, taking in styles and genres that typically cover a wide-ranging, far-reaching spectrum. But as ever, whatever road Jarrett takes us down, it is uniquely him, and unequivocally, compellingly mesmerising.

One might describe Part 1 as a no-holds-barred lengthy improvisation, with Jarrett seemingly flirting with almost incomprehensible ideas that skate on ice then plummet the depths, swimming with sharks and barely rising to the surface for breath. Part 2 is like watching the gentle ripples of the water whilst knowing there’s a darkness that lurks underneath, before revealing itself on part 3. Jarrett really gets into a groove on part 4, imaginatively leading us into the almost unexpected eloquence of part 5. As the bluesy shackles of part 6 are shaken off, the impressionistic romanticism of part 7 is beautifully soft and sweet, leading us into the incandescent elegance of part 8. The short, darting, slightly incongruous part 9 paves the way for the darker paths of part 10, with a reverential reflection at the heart of part 11. And why not round it all off with bit of boogie-woogie… yes that’d be part 12. As has become the norm with Jarrett’s encores, they are stunning, and the two tunes performed here, “It’s a lonesome old town” and “Answer me” are no exception.

Jarrett has lived an unprecedented musical journey and it is with great sadness that I have read recent news articles reporting that he has suffered two strokes over the last couple of years, leaving him unable to play piano with his left hand now. We can only send loving thoughts and hope that he remains positive, recovers as well as can be possible, and finds health and happiness in body and mind in the years ahead.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Keith Jarrett ‘Munich 2016’ 2LP/2CD (ECM) 5/5
Birthday profile: KEITH JARRETT AT 70 (including 10 Best Album Picks)
Keith Jarrett ‘A Multitude of Angels’ 4CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett ‘Creation’ CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden ‘Last Dance’ CD/2LP (ECM) 5/5
Keith Jarrett and Michelle Makarski ‘J.S. Bach Six sonatas for piano and violin’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett Trio ‘Somewhere’ CD (ECM) 5/5
Keith Jarrett ‘Sleeper’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5
Keith Jarrett ‘No End’ 2CD (ECM) 4/5