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.