Keith Jarrett: Bridge Of Light (ECM New Series 1450)

Keith Jarrett
Bridge Of Light

The Fairfield Orchestra
Thomas Crawford conductor
Keith Jarrett piano
Michelle Makarski violin
Marcia Butler oboe
Patricia McCarty viola
Recorded March 1993, State University of New York, Purchase
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher

Keith Jarrett’s classical compositions tend to feel, not surprisingly, like an expanded piano in which the left and right hands come to be demarcated by greater instrumental forces. I also tend to hear the improvisational origins from which I imagine his music sprouts, as if the orchestra were simply channeling the pianist’s gift for spontaneous creation with due simultaneity. This is by no means a detriment to his efforts in this field, for it cleverly reconfigures the orchestra’s traditional physiognomy. Yet what I hear in the Elegy for Violin and String Orchestra that opens this striking disc is something altogether different from his previous efforts and, dare I say, more fully realized. Here, Jarrett approaches the orchestra on its own terms—cutting a path that is somewhere between the density of a symphony and the detail of a string quartet—in a deft exchange of pensive asides and grander responses. It is a piece about perseverance, reveling in its own structural integrity, and is one of Jarrett’s most painterly compositions.

The Adagio for Oboe and String Orchestra that follows pulls at the same threads, loosening knots that were once ironclad. The structure is therefore freer, amorphously shifting itself into a variety of shapes, while always maintaining the same spirit.

If I were to make any general statement about Jarrett’s classical music, it would be that his lead melodies possess a profound melodic drive. One can hear this most vividly in the beautiful Sonata for Violin and Piano that follows, and particularly in the second movement, “Song.” The Sonata features the composer at the keyboard and glows with a Mozartean charm. The music rolls off the fingers of both musicians with consummate ease and never lets up for a moment, always searching for a new field of expression in which to make itself known. The fourth movement, “Birth,” is, like its name implies, a liminal realm of uncertainty in which dissonance is creation. The third and fifth movements, both titled “Dance,” play with the shadows at the periphery, breathing with a whimsical, almost Bartókian flavor that soothes even as it invigorates.

The title work for viola and orchestra opens with a lush inhalation before the viola expels its rather mournful proclamation. Yet within that yearning a glimmer of hope slowly unfolds. The viola charts a consolatory path, feeling as if it were remembering a journey long past while also sharing those experiences as they happen. Two solo passages act like messengers as the music builds to a glorious ascent, then subsides into its gentle coda, where resolution seems but a natural extension of what came before.

The performers on Bridge Of Light make delicate work of Jarrett’s soundscapes, balancing reservation and overstatement with reverence. Moments of unity abound in which soloists and orchestra share the same breath. It is in these moments that we find glimpses of what makes us human, shaping our internal lives like the ceaseless flow of time.

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