In The Light
Keith Jarrett piano, gong, percussion, conductor
String Section of the Südfunk Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart
Mladen Gutesha conductor
The American Brass Quintet
The Fritz Sonnleitner Quartet
Ralph Towner guitar
Willi Freivogel flute
Engineers: K. Rapp, M. Wieland, M. Scheuermann
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Keith Jarrett
One look at my other Keith Jarrett reviews is enough to confirm that I have been guilty of separating his skills as performer and improviser from those of his role as composer. After listening to an album such as In The Light, however, I begin to suspect that for him they are one and the same.
The lush flavors of Metamorphosis for flute and strings are a most substantial appetizer to the many courses that follow in this early foray into larger territories. Soloist Willi Freivogel soars through the orchestra’s empty skies with a free and easy charm, bringing a pastoral sound in which memory is more than recreated; it is relived. Jarrett’s balance of density and linearity speaks with the same sense of total concentration and calculated surrender to the melodic moment as his most admirable improvisations. Moods and techniques take sudden turns, as in a particularly inventive passage during which the members of the orchestra tap their instruments for a pointillist interlude. The album has its fair share of similarly expansive works, including the enchanting Short Piece For Guitar And Strings (with Ralph Towner on nylon), and the anthemic In The Cave, In The Light (pairing Jarrett on piano, gong, and percussion with orchestra). While the latter two never quite scale the heights of Metamorphosis, they are so distinctly realized that one is hard-pressed to make a case for such comparisons. A smattering of chamber works rounds out this ambitious double effort, of which the String Quartet is the most appealing. Its pseudo-neoclassical style is sharp, taut, and uplifting. Unfortunately, Crystal Moment for four celli and two trombones doesn’t work so much for me, and seems to meander from the album’s otherwise steady path. The Brass Quintet, on the other hand, is a wonderful hybrid of timbres and chameleonic styles. Two solo pieces, Fughata for Harpsichord and A Pagan Hymn (both played by Jarrett on piano), provide the sharpest angles in a gospel-Baroque pastiche.
Overall, the idiomatic slipperiness of In The Light keeps us on our toes and ensures that we never outstay our welcome in any given label. Though perhaps a daunting journey to take in one sitting, it is nevertheless a deep insight into one of contemporary music’s most fascinating figures. These orchestral projects are in some ways Jarrett’s most “experimental.” Then again, isn’t experimentation what music is all about?