Keith Jarrett: Tokyo Solo (ECM 5501)

Keith Jarrett
Tokyo Solo

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded October 30, 2002, Metropolitan Festival Hall, Tokyo
Directed by Kanama Kawachi

Over a career spanning nearly 70 recordings for ECM alone, Keith Jarrett has established himself as one of the world’s most inimitable and revered musicians. We marvel at his music-making, at his technical prowess and innovation, but rarely do we get to experience the physiological creativity so vital to what he does. For this concert, Jarrett’s 150th in Japan, the one and only has given us a primary source in video form, a clearer glimpse into the complexity of his craft. On the surface Jarrett is a lone pianist whose humble frame elicits some of the more towering improvisations one is ever likely to hear, and here we get to see what lies beyond that surface to the fiery core that sustains him. As he quietly takes the stage the house lights dim to circumscribe the piano, leaving Jarrett and his instrument suspended in darkness.

He blows on his hands and draws an abstract veil over our eyes and ears. What we hear is serial, boastful yet self-deprecating, and, while not entirely accessible, betrays total commitment to a challenging trajectory. Jarrett works his way through a dense cloud of notes, as if searching for the perfect one, which he finds and intones as his face contorts in mimicry of the depths plied with every repetition.

This instigates an ecstatic passage of finger pedaling, which eventually brings Jarrett to the piano’s outermost reaches. He plays a single high and low tone together before returning to the center, as if he were gently embracing every note available to him before singling out a privileged few.

We then enter the most emotional portion of the concert. Jarrett cannot help but sing along, as much in deference as we are to the sounds flowing through him. At this point we come to realize that the opening jumble was nothing more than a search for any fragment he might be able to expand into a larger narrative, and that this is the tale we are about to hear. As Jarrett begins the next section, someone claps. He stops and listens carefully before scrapping everything in favor of a new idea. What follows is an agitated catharsis that gradually beats itself into a more elegiac shape. So ends Part 1.

Part 2 is more like what we have come to expect from a Jarrett solo concert: protracted, pastoral bliss. With lips puckered and brow furrowed, Jarrett dives headfirst into a quiet maelstrom of beauty, precursor to a grinding tangent that stops as suddenly as it develops. In spite of the serious approach he manifests in his performance style, Jarrett is not without his lighter moments. He even flirts with the audience’s attentions at one point during the concert. He has just played a delicate high note to close an epic improvisation. Applause begins, but he signals silence, only to play that same note a final time. He smiles and says, “That’s it.”

From this laughter he emerges with a brilliant cascade to close. Not wanting to leave his audience without something familiar, he returns to the stage for three encores: Danny Boy, Old Man River (Jerome Kern), and Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me (Art Tatum/Count Basie)—all of them pulled off with unparalleled intuition.

Those wanting to get more out of the Keith Jarrett experience need look no further than this DVD. The camerawork and recording are simple and direct, capturing the full range of expressions and contortions at Jarret’s disposal, and the crisp sound ensures that we hear every surrender. Jarrett shows a profound respect for what he plays, be it a standard or something composed on the spot. The image of his spotlit piano is the perfect metaphor: the musical alchemist toiling over his crucibles while his admirers fall awestruck into shadow. That being said, it’s easy for us to over-romanticize Jarrett’s process, to wonder where he goes when he improvises with such fluidity. Thankfully in Tokyo Solo we no longer need to wonder, for in a performance such as this we share the same space.

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