Dennis Russell Davies piano
Recorded June 1977 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Ritual is something of an anomaly in the Keith Jarrett archive. It’s a solo album, as many of his best are, only this time it is pianist, conductor, and frequent collaborator Dennis Russell Davies at the keys playing a work penned entirely by Jarrett. The hallmarks of a Jarrett piano recital are all there—the rolling ostinatos, dense arpeggios, and profound doublings—yet are valenced differently under the rubric of “composition.” In this context, we get a sense of “once removed-ness” that might not present itself under improvisational circumstances. The piece’s modest 32 minutes are divided into two immodest parts. From the opening groundswell we get not only dense pockets of energy, but also nodes of emptiness. Put another way: the music’s glorious peaks share the same space as the shadowy valleys at their feet, thereby encompassing a harmonious middle ground. Like a geyser, its eruptions are predictable yet manage to enthrall every time. Despite its claustrophobic beginnings, Part 1 ends in bright solitude, like a room in which the curtain has been slowly opened to welcome the morning sun. Heavier chording marks Part 2, which resolves in a hopeful melancholy, but not before gelling the emotional plasticity of its precursor. This brings us full circle, ending on a solemn intonation of a single note.
Ritual is far more “regulated” than typical Jarrett fare, spun as it is from the surrogacy of another performer rather than through the alchemy of spontaneous creation (though there is, of course, some of each in the other). The results are captivating in their own way, stoked by every depressed key and lifted pedal. Its shapes are drawn not by what is, but what has been and will be. The present is invisible and lives on only as formless possibility, caught like a blown kiss in the cup of one’s hand.