Keith Jarrett: Rio (ECM 2198/99)

Keith Jarrett
Rio

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded live April 9, 2011 at Theatro Municipal, Rio de Janeiro
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Rio concert produced by OGM (Guillermo Malbrán/Augusto Tapia) and dell’arte (Myriam Dauelsberg/Steffen Dauelsberg)
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

On 9 April 2011, Keith Jarrett took the stage at the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro for a concert of improvised music at the piano. Under any other artist’s name, this formula might ring as flat as the disc it’s printed on, bat Jarrett’s fingertips those keys do something unknown even to him. Like a marionette that comes to impossible life in the hands of a master puppeteer, an instrument before Jarrett is a broken circle waiting for its final arc. Rather than hang that circle as one would a mirror on the wall, he rolls it as a child would a hoop down the street. Such is the spirit of abandon that opens his every note like laughter at something intangible, and points to a destination so far away that it returns to its origin.

On Rio, he crosses 15 short bridges to get there, mapping a spectrum of interlocking terrains along the way. Still, the serial infrared beginnings are something of a surprise on his way to ultraviolet. Over a knotted, postindustrial dream, they reveal a spontaneous imagination at play. A wall rises before us. On one side is the melancholy we might come to expect of the musician who brought us wonders at Köln, Paris, and Kyoto. The listener cannot help but feel it in the rapt attention of the audience, which acts as spinner for the many fibrous experiences that had to come together to create such a shimmering veil of beauty. On the other side of that wall is the bluesy pointillism that never seems far away when Jarrett is near. Yet the more we listen, the more we realize that every brick is its own song, and bonds the spaces on either side with sound and sentiment. Part 4, for example, is a smooth ballad reminiscent of “As Time Goes By” that cracks open a bottle of Gershwin along the way, while the staggered overlay of 5 shows us two hands in fluid independence. Guitaristic flamenco dances change places with the sweeping elegy that is Part 7, one of two major turning points in the concert during which Jarrett and the audience must have known something unprecedented was happening. Its sister moment occurs in 9: sure to still your thoughts. If the concert’s second half seems but meteoric offshoots of the first, it’s only because every mirror has its dark side, so that when the blues returns in Parts 11 and 14, it feels twisted in spite of its enervations; and when Parts 12 and 15 revive those earlier rays of heavenliness, they have grown heavier, wiser. Not that this leaves us in any less a state of awe. Rather, these transmogrifications show us the nature of life, which teaches us that nothing is ever the same.

As the story goes, Jarrett called Eicher after this performance, professing it to be his best. Yet I would appeal to the earlier man, who once said that no night is better than any other. It all comes down to the moment, the experience, the pureness of making music that will forever evade definition. What we hear, then, is neither his “best” nor “worst.” Inhaled and exhaled through the digital lungs by which we have come to measure our listening pleasures, it is what it is: a gift to be lived on as it is fed.

(To hear samples of Rio, click here.)

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