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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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KEITH JARRETT

Testament: Paris/London

ECM Records 270 9583

 

 

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 III/4).

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.

Tony Augarde



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