CD1: Salle Pleyel, Paris November 26, 2008: Parts I - VIII
CD2: Royal Festival Hall, London December 1, 2008: Parts I - XII
CD3: Royal Festival Hall, London December 1, 2008: Parts I - XII
Keith Jarrett - Piano
It is more than 30 years since Keith Jarrett began giving solo concerts
of completely improvised piano music, so it would not be surprising
if his latest album was a matter of diminishing returns. I already
felt this went I reviewed his Tokyo Solo DVD and this new three-CD
package is decidedly patchy.
The album was recorded at concerts in Paris in November 2008 (CD1)
and in London in December 2008 (CDs 2 and 3). I have not bothered
to list the tracks, as they are simply numbered "Part I",
"Part II", etc. for each of the three CDs.
Like much freely improvised music, Jarrett's recitals can be hit-or-miss
affairs, and one sometimes wishes that he (or his producer, Manfred
Eicher) would exercise more selectivity. The other problem is that
Jarrett's improvisations frequently stray a long way away from jazz
into the classical genre he has also espoused. I was deeply impressed
by Keith's first solo piano concerts - the ones in Bremen, Lausanne
and Cologne, partly because they discovered the unexpected and widened
the horizons of jazz, but also because they were basically jazz performances
salted with classical influences. Now the jazz often takes a back
seat in favour of meandering soloing which could be part of a classical
piano sonata. Many items on this album are closer to Debussy than
(say) Jarrett's idol, Ahmad Jamal.
The second track on the first CD is an example of Jarrett's rhythmic
ability being clouded by what often seems like mere doodling. The
rhythm is established by a vehement left-hand ostinato but the right
hand seems solely to decorate this underlying pattern, without any
notable level of invention. Maybe Jarrett is exploring - looking for
something, but without managing to find it. Track I/3 is more successful,
with its long-lasting trills which establish a lyrical atmosphere.
In fact this seems to have become one of the formats that Jarrett
now habitually adopts in his extemporisations: either plenty of rhapsodic
trills with lots of sustain, or hopping around the piano like a demented
sprite (as he does in I/4, II/2 and III/3), or pacing with unhurried
reflection - as in the slow movement of a classical sonata (e.g.
tracks I/5, II/1), or setting up a repetitive pattern (usually
in the left hand) and tinkling about on top of it (for instance, in
But there are good things here as well. Track I/7 finally discovers
a melody - a delicate waltz, which is also the style of track II/3.
Track III/2 likewise has a melodic basis, which provides a valuable
framework for improvisation - as jazz musicians have known ever since
they started improvising on chord sequences. The first track on the
final disc has a down-home rhythm which Jarrett fans will know and
love. And the final track has a churchy feel which may signify solace
for this tortured pianist.
The listener may feel that allowances have to be made for the personal
problems that Jarrett was experiencing at the time of these recordings
and which he describes in the sleeve-note (his second wife had recently
left him - for the third time in four years). However, as Keith himself
says: "It is NOT natural to sit at a piano, bring no material,
clear your mind completely of musical ideas, and play something that
is of lasting value". Some pieces here may be of lasting value
but there is a certain amount of chaff among the wheat.