Always Let Me Go/Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett has been working in trio mode with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette for the last twenty years, and in that time the group has only gotten better. The group came to be known as the “Standards Trio” because they performed mostly jazz standards, though the pieces often became jumping-off points for the group’s explorations.

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They have become the most revered jazz trio since the legendary Bill Evans trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, and indeed Jarrett’s trio often evokes the sense of near-telepathy that made that group famous. Still, a sense had developed in some quarters that the group was not expanding its vocabulary and that the constant exploration of standards at the expense of new material was somewhat limiting. That sense, along with the “Standards Trio” moniker, went out the window last year with the release of the incredible Inside Out, on which the group returned to free improvisation.

Always Let Me Go/Live In Tokyo is more trio improvisation, which is what Jarrett promised his listeners last year. Each of these musicians has a rich history of free improvisation work: Jarrett with Miles Davis, his “American Quartet” work featuring Dewey Redman, and his solo piano work; Peacock with such avant-garde notables as Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and Bill Dixon (coincidentally, he also worked with Bill Evans from 1962-63) and DeJohnette with Davis, Terje Rypdal, John Surman, and others. As Jarrett said in his liner notes to Inside Out: “Those of us who experimented a lot with so-called “free” playing in the 60s have years of experience to bring to it again…”

That experience, plus the group’s long history of working together, is what allows them to jettison material altogether and create something out of nothing on Always Let Me Go: “We need to be even more in tune with each other to play this way, without material; and even more attentive. Every possibility is available if you take away the tunes, but only some are valid under the circumstances. It is only sensitivity to the flux that determines whether the music succeeds or fails.”

The music here succeeds admirably. Two extremely long pieces (more than thirty minutes apiece), “Hearts in Space” and “Waves” allow the group to create an arc, the music unfolding slowly and creating a recognizable form at its own pace. On other tracks, like “The River” Jarrett’s folk sensibility, previously demonstrated by his work with Jan Garbarek, comes to the fore.

Many potential listeners may be frightened to hear talk of “free improvisation”, but they need to remember that much of Jarrett’s career has been based upon his solo piano improvisations and that in the hands of such able musicians such freedom never descends into chaos. Thus, while “Tributaries” uses rhythm as one of its organizing elements and builds throughout its length, it never disintegrates into a wild session of bashing and unattractive noise. That’s not to say that everything here is quiet and peaceful, but there is a great deal of attention to melodic development, which is scarcely surprising if you’ve ever listened to Jarrett at all.

Ultimately, listening to freely improvised music is difficult because it requires more work, even collaboration, on the part of the listener. Some people will find this off-putting and there are no doubt many who will be less than enthusiastic about working their way through a recording like this. For those who are willing to make the journey, however, the rewards are substantial and many.

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