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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Tokyo Solo

ECM DVD 987 3186



DVD review

1. Applause
2. Part 1a
3. Part 1b
4. Part 1c
5. Part 2a
6. Part 2b
7. Part 2c
8. Part 2d
9. Part 2e
10. Danny Boy
11. Ol’ Man River
12. Don’t Worry ‘bout Me

Keith Jarrett - Piano

Subtitled "The 150th concert in Japan", this DVD is a film of a solo piano recital which Keith Jarrett gave in Tokyo in 2002. It is disconcerting to see that the first track is listed as "Applause 0.33", as if someone is taking things rather seriously. And indeed the setting looks serious, with only a grand piano on a huge stage, plus a small table at one side bearing a glass and a bottle of Volvic water.

When Jarrett starts playing, the music wanders without finding much in the way of melody or even rhythm – nearer Schoenberg than jazz. Keith’s creased, agonised face suggests that he is suffering for the creative process but he doesn’t appear to be creating anything very memorable, with clusters of notes tripping over one another, apparently aimlessly. A faster segment brings a bit more excitement but nothing more cohesive.

Part 1b is a slow meditative piece making full use of the piano’s sonorous qualities – rather like a chorale, with some Debussyesque touches. Part 1c starts with restless trills and swirling sounds – lots of notes but what are they saying? The intensity eventually calms down and even develops into a lyrical exploration in the piano’s upper register.

Most of the segments in Part 2 are shorter, perhaps heralding less self-indulgence, yet one still feels that Jarrett is searching for a meaning without always finding one. The process of exploration can be exhilarating but eventually it needs to lead somewhere – otherwise it is in danger of becoming pleasant but inconsequential doodling.

Part 2a is calm and thoughtful, and 2b consists of nervous arpeggio-like runs up and down the keyboard. As the music leaps from one note to another, Jarrett half-stands, as if he’s peering inside the piano to watch the hammers doing their work (as in the cover picture above). Part 2c is built from widely-spaced single notes but the next part brings the first sign of a rich rhapsodic melody, which comes as a relief after the uncertainty of Keith’s preceding explorations. In this part he creates something which has the aura of an ancient folk tune.

Part 2e reverts to those liquid trills which come to be topped by a somewhat oriental improvisation and then an almost funky groove over an ostinato bass which ends abruptly. Up to this point, Keith Jarrett has seldom scaled the heights he reached in his early solo performances at Cologne, Bremen and Lausanne in the 1970s. They, too, were exploratory but Jarrett created some remarkable music en route, while the Tokyo concert leaves one wanting something better formed.

In a way, this is provided by the three encores, where we are safely in the world of standards, starting with a beautifully chorded Danny Boy. Jerome Kern’s Ol’ Man River is also slow and wistful before it develops into one of Jarrett’s satisfyingly down-home improvisations with earthy bass notes. The concert ends with Rube Bloom’s Don’t Worry ‘bout Me – another gentle interpretation of a show-tune. Keith stays close to the tune, seemingly trying out the effect of different chords beneath the melody. These last three tracks are the most satisfying on the disc – not simply because they explore familiar territory but because, to me at least, Jarrett achieves more musicality here than in the rest of the recital.

Tony Augarde


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