Keith Jarrett piano, timbales, percussion
Jan Garbarek saxophones
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums, percussion
Recorded May 1979 at the Village Vanguard, New York
Engineer: Tom McKenney
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Something about Keith Jarrett’s very presence seems to draw out from even the most highly regarded musicians unexpected levels of performance, commitment, and above all faith in the musical moment. Nude Ants, easily one of his most uplifting live dates (this time at the Village Vanguard) on record and the pinnacle of his quartet activities, exemplifies this to the nth degree.
In its European incarnation, Jarrett’s menagerie of yesteryear opens its gates quietly and smoothly with “Chant Of The Soil.” Jarrett digs in alongside one of the most engaging rhythm sections one could ask for (Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen). The liveness of the performance comes across early in “Innocence.” Amid clinking glasses and the even more cacophonous spirits of appreciation of those drinking from them, an enthralling intro from keys tosses Jan Garbarek’s exposition like a salad of bright energies. The moonlit “Processional” burrows beyond the trappings of a ballad and into a cavernous subconscious. Jarrett’s singing teases out a vivid pedal point as he punches chords like ecstasy’s time clock before floating off in reverie.
The second half of this heavy loaf slices much like the first: in slabs of wing-beats and half-words. Garbarek shines in “Oasis,” his reed shawm-like and opaque, as he wrenches out some of his most ecstatic high notes on record. Out of this measured catharsis Jarrett waters his colors in a solo tour de force. After the upbeat “New Dance,” the drawl that begins “Sunshine Song” is hardly enough to keep the band from pulling back a slingshot of dynamism and hurtling its contents skyward. Mounting intensities from Christensen underscore a fluttering resolution. And yet, as with everything in this set, it is tempered by an intense feeling of perpetuity that renders every potential end into a pathway of renewal.
In spite—if not because—of the idiosyncratic strengths of its performers, this is ensemble jazz at its freshest. Jarrett’s vocal leaps are nearly as adventurous as his fingers, proving once again that such passion cannot be contained in a vessel so modest as the human lung. Garbarek lets loose in ways seldom heard outside of Sart, while Danielsson and Christensen are so good together that I would be nearly as content listening to just the two of them for the entire set. Everyone here is aflame. Together, they light the world.
An indispensable classic.