The Carnegie Hall Concert was recorded on September 26, 2005, and released a year to the date later. It was Jarrett’s first American solo piano concert in ten years.
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Any recording artist as prolific as Keith Jarrett is going to have peaks and valleys. Jarrett has had surprisingly few, and it can be argued that many of those result from his trying something new that perhaps didn’t work out perfectly at the time, but which generally became integrated into his subsequent work in satisfying ways. When you are talking about music created at this high a level, there really isn’t any bad music; its reception depends largely on the listener’s tastes and on the mood that Jarrett is projecting at any given time. Where those two elements mesh there is clearly something special that occurs.
The dawn of the new millennium found Jarrett still exploring various work with his Standards Trio, featuring Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. Whisper Not, a Paris ’99 concert released in 2000, found Jarrett beginning to bounce back from his harrowing bout with chronic fatigue syndrome, which had sidelined him for a number of years. Next came the trio release Inside Out, which found the group experimenting with group improvisations in a manner not unlike Jarrett’s earlier solo piano improvisational concerts.
The group had grown sufficiently telepathic to allow them to perform in this manner, as demonstrated by 2002’s Always Let Me Go/Live In Tokyo. Two more traditional trio CDs followed: 2003 saw the release of Up For It, which showed a relaxed trio performing live in France, while 2004’s Out of Towners was, if a little less inspired, still a classic Jarrett trio performance.
Then, in 2005, came the release of Radiance, the first live improvised solo piano performance since 1997’s La Scala. Recorded in 2002, Radiance featured Jarrett improvising suites of music based on ideas—melodic, rhythmic, harmonic—that radiate from the previously improvised section. These sections were much briefer than his long-form improvisations (Köln Concerts, etc.) and the relationship between them was sometimes abstract. This new approach seems meant to provide Jarrett with the ability to perform improvisational solo piano concerts again, though it also seems to suggest a blossoming re-interest in compositional structure as well. Jarrett the composer has frequently been overshadowed by Jarrett the improviser, but there is no doubt that his compositional skills are formidable.
The Carnegie Hall Concert was recorded on September 26, 2005, and released a year to the date later. This 2-CD set applies the approach of Radiance to the bulk of the performance, but there is a difference. Whereas Radiance was frequently abstract and difficult to get a handle on from the listener’s point of view, the ten improvised sections of Carnegie Hall are very warm and approachable, though still challenging at times. There are nearly two hours of music here (curiously divided between 32 minutes on Disc One and an hour and a quarter on Disc Two), but it seems unlikely that very many of those in attendance were looking at their watches during this first solo Jarrett American performance in ten years.
Part I opens with a strong note of classicism, and suggestions of some of Jarrett’s work interpreting classical artists, particularly Dimitri Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues. Part II creates a rhythmic backdrop for some bluesy soloing that, were it being played on electric piano or the combination of electric piano and organ that Jarrett used while playing with Miles Davis, would be downright funky.
There is a strong audience ovation following this propulsive section. It’s followed by the lyrical Part III, the type of exercise in spare romanticism that has beguiled many of Jarrett’s followers. More than ever Jarrett allows space and silence to speak volumes. Part IV is frenetic and relatively atonal until it settles, uneasily, back into a minor key near its conclusion. Part V picks up from there and builds in more melodicism while keeping the listener just a little off-balance at the same time.
Disc 2 begins with Part VI, another playful abstraction that demonstrates the way in which Jarrett’s considerable technique is always used only as a tool to express the musical ideas in his head.
Part VII is a revelation, as Jarrett returns to the kind of open-hearted gospel/Americana that he does better than anyone, yet has not done for some time. This section demonstrates the way that he is able to turn the simplest of chord progressions into a full-fledged musical piece that builds in emotion until it seems to explode forth from the keyboard, direct from some inspirational force, with Jarrett merely as its interpreter. The audience clearly enjoys this piece following several darker and more pensive sections.
Part VIII is contemplative, but more unabashedly romantic than anything on Disc One. This sets up the ending sequence—an almost stride number, Part IX, and the gentle Part X, with its repetitive rhythm pedal note, a theme that conjures all the wide-screen dreams as well as the sense of aloneness and uncertainty that can reside in the same person at the same time in an urban environment like New York City. It ends the piece on a note that, while not dark, is more somber than might have been the case.
Following the copious and thunderous applause that explodes at the piece’s conclusion, Jarrett performs five encores—all composed pieces. One of these—the finale—is a standard, the Youmans/Adamson/Gordon piece “Time On My Hands.” The others are all Jarrett compositions—three of them new. “The Good America” is the kind of open sky piece that Jarrett has specialized in—a kind of Americana that springs from the soil of the heartland and comes close to being a kind of hymn.
“Paint My Heart Red” is a classic Jarrett jazz performance, as he swings through some phrases and displays a classical sense of restraint on others. Jarrett’s “True Blues” is a real boogie-woogie fest that results in several minutes of applause. The other Jarrett piece here is a vintage composition—“My Song,” originally recorded in 1977 with his “European” quartet that featured Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielson, and Jon Christensen. His solo performance is a delicate rendering of the tune that offers up its romantic core without a trace of sentimentalism. It’s the first time Jarrett has dug back into his considerable repertoire of compositions in a long time, and it is one of several hopeful signs here that we may see more of Jarrett playing solo piano onstage in the years to come. Truly one of his best solo performances since the days of Köln Concerts and Sun Bear Concerts, and easily one of this year’s best overall releases.