This week it was revealed in a Nate Chinen piece for The New York Times that Keith Jarrett–pianist, composer, and one of the most important jazz musicians of the last sixty years–suffered two strokes in 2017, from which he still struggles to recover, and that he will not play the piano again. All of that comes as his longstanding record label, ECM, releases the first concert from his 2016 tour, recorded in Budapest.
by Marshall Bowden
All artists, if they live long enough, must come to terms with the process of aging. As they reach various career milestones–45 year release anniversaries, fifty years in the business, logging hit songs every one of six decades–they reach a point when they must inevitably confront either the end of their ability to produce their art or consider their own mortality. Either way, they often begin to consider their legacy. After all, no one can ever make a better case for your art than you can while you’re still here.
This week it was revealed in a Nate Chinen piece for The New York Times that Keith Jarrett–pianist, composer, and one of the most important jazz musicians of the last sixty years–suffered two strokes in 2017, from which he still struggles to recover, and that he will not play the piano again. All of that comes as his longstanding record label, ECM, releases the first concert from his 2016 tour, recorded in Budapest. It is the second concert from 2016 to be released, the other being Munich 2016, recorded at the tour’s final performance two weeks later.
There has always been a lag between the recording of live Jarrett performances and their release, and one can only assume that there will be a few further releases. But that lag is disconcerting in light of recent news as we unexpectedly arrive at the tail end of an extremely long and prolific recording and performing career, even more so when Jarrett regards Budapest Concert as being a ‘gold standard’ by which his live recordings will be measured.
Since his return from a bout with chronic fatigue syndrome his solo concerts became segmented into smaller movements that created an overarching suite. Sometimes that suite would be fragmented, even though each movement would make sense and be well played and constructed. But at other times the larger structure of the piece would take shape with repeated listens, resulting in a truly great recording.
The Koln Concert is perhaps the most often cited example of such a work, but at the time it was recorded, Jarrett would combine all styles and genres of playing into a single lengthy improvised composition. The result was often stunning, but sometimes the quick changes and transitions from one portion to another would be awkward. It was a style well suited to the early 1970s, mimicking the energy of composers like Mike Oldfield and Jean-Michel Jarre, but over time the new, modular structure of Jarrett’s improvised solo performances came to seem more natural, even superior.
Jarrett talks about his improvised work as being passed to him from a higher power, and he is clear about the fact that his audience helps create the performance. The place, the piano, the situation–these are all factors, but the biggest factors for Jarrett are the inspiration he draws from the energy and mood of the audience. On Budapest Concert, he clearly draws inspiration from the titular city and the fact that the performance is held at Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. Jarrett claims ancestral roots from Hungary, and so this was a deep connection for him, and it shows, particularly in the first segment (Parts I-IV), which are rhythmically inventive, and seem to embody the spirit of Bartok and Hungary
The second disc is like a clinic, encapsulating the stride piano of Part VI, the balladry, with gospel overtones, of Part VII, the classicism of Part VIII, the blues workout of Part XII, and the versions of “It’s A Lonesome Old Town” and “Answer Me” that serve as encores. The compositions Jarrett plays as encores underscore that his approach to everything is improvisational/compositional as he works these standards much the same way he works through his own thoughts at the piano.