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My Foolish Heart/Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett describes this recording of his famed standards trio at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 2001 as showing “the trio at its most buoyant, swinging, melodic and dynamic.” It’s difficult to argue with that assessment, as this performance is one of the most straight-ahead, swinging, and joyous performances of the group since the release of Up For It. 

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That disc was recorded in Juan-les-Pins, France, in July 2002. It would appear that the month of July has been especially good to Jarrett and the trios, as both of these performances were done in July, a year apart. In addition, both had obstacles to overcome—it was rainy at Juan-les-Pins, and the group didn’t feel inspired before going onstage, and Jarrett cites ‘bad problems with the sound, the lights, the unbelievable heat, and the audience’ in his liner notes to My Foolish Heart.

What makes this performance something special in the group’s 18-record discography with ECM? Well, as Jarrett himself says in the liner notes, “It shows the trio at its most buoyant, swinging, melodic, and dynamic.” And it’s impossible to argue with him. All three members seem to be in top form here, playing as well as possible on an individual basis while contributing equally to the group experience. Gary Peacock’s bass is ebullient and full of vigor, his solos gorgeous and limber. Jack DeJohnette approaches the drums with great energy, but while his drum work constantly interacts with the other instruments, he is never bombastic or overly busy.

Then there’s Jarrett himself, who plays with an energy that belies his age and his problems with chronic fatigue syndrome, now nearly a decade in the past. He plays the Fats Waller numbers “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose” with incredible swing and swagger, and these are incredibly rare performances for Jarrett. Together with “You Took Advantage of Me” these songs show Jarrett reveling in ragtime and stride, styles that he’s never explicitly performed on recording before. It’s difficult if not impossible to think of another group that is as comfortable with both standard jazz and free jazz as this one. As the group enters its 25th year together, it seems to have become more energized than ever. Since Jarrett’s return to the stage, the group has recorded two incredible albums of group improvisation (Inside Out and Always Let Me Go) and a series of standards performances that seem to grow ever more joyful (The Out of TownersUp for It, and now My Foolish Heart).

This 110-minute complete concert is replete with fantastic musical moments—an energized rendition of Miles Davis’ “Four,” a gorgeous and romantic version of the title track, Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” a sumptuous “What’s New,” a mathematically perfect version of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” and a swinging “Five Brothers.” As this trio marks a quarter-century together there is no evidence of slowing down or not having new ideas to explore. Here’s hoping Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette will continue to make exceptional music together far into the future.

Rarum I: Keith Jarrett

It’s hardly surprising that Keith Jarrett’s contribution to ECM’s Rarum series of selected recordings chosen by the artist should be a two-disc set absolutely packed with music. After all, Jarrett’s work with the label spans some 30 years of music created in a variety of styles and with a variety of groups, from solo works to duets and larger ensembles.

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Furthermore, Jarrett has played not only acoustic piano on these recordings, but also the clavichord, soprano sax, pipe organ, and various percussion instruments. Jarrett says that he attempted to offer selections that would “direct the listener’s attention to recordings that either have been, in my opinion, heard less than I feel is their due, or have escaped recent (and younger fans’) awareness.” Time constraints prevented the inclusion of quite a bit that he felt should have been included (he tells you what those are in the notes) and didn’t permit the inclusion of his more celebrated solo piano works (Koln Concert, for example), but those are best heard in their entirety, anyway. The resulting collection is much like Jarrett himself-ambitious, inclusive, sometimes pretentious, at times annoying, and, in a word, simply breathtaking in their beauty and power.

The first disc begins with three selections from Book of Ways, solo clavichord improvisations (Jarrett reminds us that all the solo performances here, regardless of instrument, are totally improvised). Actually, there were three clavichords set up in the studio-two positioned so that they could be played at the same time, and the third off to one side. The clavichord doesn’t seem to be particularly suited to Jarrett’s percussive attack on some of these selections, and overall I have to say that this is not one of my favorites.

We move next into “Heartland”, a piano improvisation done at a concert in Bergenz that is very gospel-influenced and uplifting. Here we hear Jarrett’s characteristic groans and cries that are a hallmark of his playing, both live and in the studio. Given the character of the piece, they fit in particularly well, but in any case they really don’t distract from the performance as you might expect them to.

Five pieces from the album Spirits follow, and these feature Jarrett playing all the instruments (soprano sax, Pakistani flute, recorders, piano, tabla, and percussion), overdubbed using two cassette recorders. This was not a really popular album at the time of its release, probably because too many critics saw it as an exercise in self-indulgence, but the music is really beautiful and seems to flow very freely-Jarrett himself has commented that he did not so much compose the pieces as he allowed them to happen. My favorite is “Spirits 13” which has a real Native American feeling to it, featuring Jarrett on percussion, tabla, and the Pakistani flute.

 Hymns/Spheres was a very daring work, with Jarrett improvising on the organ at the Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren. Jarrett experimented with the organ (built in the 1700s), partially opening its stops to create new sounds. The result was an interesting and intense work that unfortunately bordered, at times, on tedium. ECM released only a portion of the two-LP set on a single CD entitled Spheres and here we get one track, “Spheres (7th Movement)”. The piece is dark, filled with slowly building and dissonant chord clusters and drones, and should give the listener a good idea of whether he or she wants to pursue the work further.

Rounding out Disc One are some awesome tracks done with a quartet of Jarrett, saxophonist Jan Gabarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen done in 1974 and 1977. “The Windup” is another gospel-tinged number that moves along quickly and lightly. These are, in fact, the most accessible numbers on the collection, certain to appeal to most any listener.

“Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” sounds suspiciously like Steely Dan’s song “Gaucho” from the album of the same name-and for good reason-Donald Fagen “lifted” (this was before sampling, remember) the track. In any case, it’s a buoyant, uplifting beauty of a track either way. “My Song: and “The Journey Home”, done three years later are a bit more introspective, though “Journey Home” offers much of the same feel-good vibe of the previous two tracks.

Disc Two opens with some solo piano Jarrett, albeit of a different ilk than his Koln and similar live recordings done in the 70s. The two tracks here, “Recitative” and “Americana” come from 1987’s Dark Intervals recorded in Tokyo. The improvisations are shorter (hence their inclusion here) and often much simpler both in style and harmonically. This might lead to a general conclusion that the recording is a mere shadow of Jarrett’s great live improvisational output, it is more a case of a more distilled style that conveys the strength of Jarrett’s music without nearly as many stylistic flourishes.

Next come two tracks from Invocations/The Moth and the Flame recorded again in Ottobeuren (which seems to have had a powerful effect on Jarrett’s imagination), with Jarrett playing solo soprano sax (again improvised) on “Invocation (First)” and accompanying himself on pipe organ on “Invocation (Fifth)”. These are ponderous compositions, darkly brooding and reminiscent of the Hymns/Spheres work (again, the locale must have been a strong influence). “Munich, Part IV”, recorded in 1981, rounds out the solo piano work heard on this album, and it is a bit more similar to the early solo concert work many listeners are familiar with.

In 1979 Jarrett returned to the quartet with Gabarek, Danielsson, and Christensen, and the result, heard here on the track “Late Night Willie” were remarkably similar to the quartet’s earlier recordings.

The conclusion of Disc Two is given over primarily to the Keith Jarrett “Standards” trio of Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, so named because they do sublime interpretations of a lot of standard jazz material. However, on this CD we hear them performing Jarrett classics, “The Cure” from the album of the same name, and “Bop-Be” and “No Lonely Nights” from At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings.

Little needs to be said about the quality of this group to anyone who has ever heard them play. They work together like few trios ever have, being in a class with Chick Corea’s classic trio with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes, the legendary Bill Evans trio comprised of Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, and the original Oscar Peterson trio. It is worth noting that all the material on this collection, including the trio work, comes from the period prior to Jarrett’s bout with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

The collection ends with “Hymn of Remembrance”, a track from the original Hymns/Spheres album that is sublime with a deeply spiritual feeling, as is indicated by the title. Perhaps ECM should consider releasing Hymns/Spheres in its entirety at this time.

“If any listener goes out and buys any of the albums represented here (or suggested), the job was worth doing,” says Jarrett in his liner notes. I can’t help but think that his time on this project was very well spent.

Up For It/Keith Jarrett Trio

Imagine that you are universally recognized as one of the most distinctive and influential jazz pianists of the last forty years and that you lead a trio whose work has become synonymous with the word consistency—so much so that you fear that the group’s work may be taken for granted because it is never less than superb.

Now imagine that you have been booked to play the Juan-les-Pins festival in France, an event that you have played many times previously. But an odd thing happens. You arrive in the midst of an unexpected rainy season (very unusual for France in July). Even after undergoing your usual ritual of having dinner backstage and watching the sun go down, you find little that inspires you to want to play, and worse yet, your trio mates agree. Your bassist says that he does not feel like playing. But you go out on stage anyway, and you start to play. And, as if impossible to repress, the old magic is there almost from the first note. In fact, the group’s performance is, if anything, lighter and less ponderous, while no less interesting or accomplished.

Those are the circumstances behind the Keith Jarrett “Standards Trio” recording Up For It, recorded live in Juan-les-Pins, France, July 2002, recounted by Jarrett in his liner notes. If you put this disc on without reading them, it might be easy to hear this as just another perfect or near-perfect recording by this extraordinary trio, but there is a real sense of lightness here that has not been there on recent Jarrett recordings.

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On last year’s Always Let Me Go/Live In Tokyo and 2001’s Inside Out, the group played free improvisations that were often dense and ponderous. Though that work revealed a trio that was at the top of its form and still investigating new rivers and tributaries, it did not always meet with approval from fans that enjoyed the group’s interpretations of standards (from which the trio received its moniker). But there is even more ebullience here than on the group’s last standards outing, 1999’s Whisper Not. It’s as though the band was able to play a set that was in direct contrast to the events that led up to, and as such the recording represents a stunning triumph for this band.

Though the group does not play much introductory material to these standards, they do manage to put their own stamp on them without taking them “outside.” Rather, they inhabit the songs and interpret them as one organic unit, much the way that the famous Bill Evans trio did. Listen, for example, to the rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” a warhorse if ever there was one. Even before they’ve finished stating the melody, you’ll be lost in the group’s living, breathing interpretation of the song rather than thinking ‘oh, no, not another ‘My Funny Valentine.’” It is precisely this ability that makes the Jarrett standards trio one of the most amazing ensembles in the annals of jazz.

On their last few CDs, this group has amazed us by adding ever-increasing layers of complexity to its sound; now they strip those layers away and simply become a great trio living up to its legendary abilities. In case you haven’t gotten the message yet: Up For It is a recording you need to hear. This is true if you’re a Jarrett fan or even if you merely enjoy some of his work or haven’t been that crazy about his last few releases. This is much more than just another perfect or near-perfect Jarrett recording—it is a really major performance that we’ll still be listening to in ten or twenty years.

Fort Yawuh/Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett’s “American” quartet, comprised of Jarrett, Dewey Redman, Paul Motian, and Charlie Haden plus contributions from percussionist Guilherme Franco, generally gets short shrift in discussions of the mercurial pianist’s career. During the time this quartet recorded eight albums with this group for Impulse! Records he also recorded a number of his improvised solo piano albums and some work with his “European” quartet (Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson, Jon Christensen). The work of the American quartet is warmer and often more vital than the more austere work he went on to perform, despite the fact that the group is freer and more attuned to the avant-garde aesthetic than most of Jarrett’s ensembles.

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Fort Yawuh is one of the group’s best efforts, a series of live performances that demonstrate the many different aspects of the group. “(If the)Misfits(Wear It),” the album opener, is boppish and recalls Ornette Coleman, though you can hear traces of the gospel influence that Jarrett brought to bear on the European quartet recordings. Redman offers a lexicon of avant-garde tenor sounds, his cries and shrieks sounding less noisy and more evocative of the human voice today than they may have come across at the time. “Fort Yawuh” is a lyrical piece on which Redman plays with incredible beauty. Certainly he should be recognized as one of the best post-Coltrane tenor players to come along.

“De Drums” works up a nice groove and allows for the aforementioned gospel and even some blues influence to come to the fore, while “Still Life, Still Life” demonstrates a Bill Evans influence as well as much of the classical influence of Jarrett’s solo piano work. The album closer, “Roads Travelled, Roads Veiled” is a free jazz exploration built on Motian’s African-inspired drumming and some of Haden’s steady, melodic bass work.

This is a really essential Jarrett album and a side of his music you don’t get to hear on his numerous ECM releases. For those with some time, money, and interest, the two collections The Impulse Years, 1973-74 and Mysteries: The Impulse Year 1975-77 provide access to all eight (including this) of the American quartet’s albums, most of which are domestically out of print, and they are well worth the money. If you are unsure or just want to check out this group, Fort Yawuh is an excellent entry point.