Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette
Ruta and Daitya
Keith Jarrett piano, electric piano, organ, flute
Jack DeJohnette drums, percussion
Recorded May 1971 at Sunset Studios, Los Angeles
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, who continue their formidable partnership to this day, join forces for an early and unique collaboration. This being the tail end of Jarrett’s electric period with Miles Davis, Ruta and Daitya marks an archivally important transition into his imminent acoustic pilgrimages. “Overture Communion” captures our attention from the start with a funky, wah-wahed electric piano, warmly guiding us into the album’s exciting, yet somehow always plaintive world. The title track shakes things up with a spate of hand percussion as Jarrett flutes a more abstract improvisation than the one that began the album, though to no less captivating effect. When Jarrett abandons flute for piano, a markedly different shape brands itself into the foreground. In doing so, something gets obscured. It’s not that instruments from such seemingly disparate geographies cannot tread the same path, but simply that they don’t speak to each other as complementarily. Thankfully, Jarrett’s return to flute, this time of bamboo variety, puts us right back into the conversation. DeJohnette takes up a standard drum kit for “All We Got,” a cut that runs around in circles, even as it rouses us with its gospel-infused aesthetic. Jarrett finds himself acoustically redrawn in “Sounds of Peru.” Piano and hand drums work magically this time around as the duo hones further the groove it has been searching for. Jarrett opens up his playing, giving DeJohnette a wider berth in which to lose himself. No longer do the drums skirt the periphery, but frolic in the territory proper. There is even what amounts to a percussion solo as Jarrett coos in the background with delight, thus preparing him for an inspired passage that grinds bass notes in counterpoint to his running right hand. In “Algeria,” Jarrett sings into the flute again, leaving me to wonder why we don’t hear him on the instrument more often, though perhaps its linearity is somewhat limiting to a musician with such expansive hands (hence, his propensity for polyphonic playing). “You Know, You Know” brings us full circle to the electric piano for a more laid-back coolness before we end with “Pastel Morning,” a beautiful meditation on the electric piano. In the absence of punchy distortion, it sounds almost like a vibraphone, its gentler capacities allowed to float of their own accord.
The album’s title is a curious one, and offers at best a rather opaque X-ray of the conceptual skeleton it sheathes. Ruta and Daitya refer to two island-continents, remnants of the second cataclysm to befall the great island of Atlantis. Both were populated by races of titans, known as “Lords of the Dark Face” as a means of indicating their ties to black magic. If we are to believe Madame Blavatsky, who in her second volume of The Secret Doctrine outlines their genealogical significance in her mystical, albeit highly racialized, account of creation, the Egyptians inherited the cosmological legacy of the Ruta Atlanteans, as supposedly evidenced in the similarities of their Zodiacal beliefs. Whatever the origins, there is much to ponder in Ruta and Daitya. The sensitive pianism for which Jarrett is so renowned is in full evidence throughout, though for me his flute playing really sells the album. Jarrett proves himself more than adept and plays with an addictive sense of abandon. DeJohnette, meanwhile, enchants with a melodic approach to his kit, especially in his use of cymbals.
This isn’t an album I would necessarily recommend to those just starting their Jarrett or ECM explorations. For what it is—a meeting of two consummate musical minds—its importance is a given. While perhaps not as consistently inventive as other likeminded projects (see, for example, the phenomenal Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins effort Which Way Is East), it is certainly more hit than miss, and strikes this listener with the ambitions of its musicians’ reach every time.