Keith Jarrett: Spirits (ECM 1333/34)

Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett piano, flutes, soprano saxophone, guitar, percussion
Recorded May through July 1985 at Cavelight Studios, New Jersey
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher

Spirits is more than a jewel in the rough. It is the rough of a jewel. By this, I mean to say that through its hard-won journey Keith Jarrett has peered into the heart of darkness that is life and compressed it into a diamond so honest that no amount of polishing will wear away its blemishes. Recorded at his home studio, then post-processed by ECM engineer Martin Wieland, this is a most personal album of boundless expression. Then again, so is every Jarrett album. The difference is in the instrumentation: an unusual array of flutes, keys, and percussion, overdubbed in various combinations and densities (Jarrett even picks up a guitar, which he treats more like a sitar). Jarrett also sings, wails as if in and of the earth, finding in Nature a single feather plucked from nowhere. Bird-less, it has no recourse to flight, and can only call to a sky it will never know.

Though splashed over two discs in 26 parts, this heartrending session takes breath into the same pair of lungs throughout. Moods range from jubilation to a burrowing pensiveness, but always with an ear attuned to catharsis. The nearly two-hour purge turns repression into a path, beginning deep in the heart of ritual, where drums and flutes tread in place of feet and throats, and ending in the recesses of a Renaissance dream, where shepherds, troubadours, and shamans share their slumber. Jarrett’s occasional chants flirt with the exigencies of articulation, all the while forming steady yet somehow ungraspable touchstones along the way. The expected pianism is kept to a graceful minimum, giving way instead to wondrous ruminations on soprano saxophone and other suspended airs.

In so many other hands, such an album would come across as a trite exercise in tribalism, but in Jarrett’s it emotes with full transparency. By far his most colorful release, it marks a shift in method. Where before he charted every possible recess of the structure at hand, here he allows that structure to build itself around him in a shelter of the psyche. The result is a freestanding insight into the pathos of creation. Probably not the one you’ll want to start with, but by no means a prism to bar from the light of your curiosity.

<< Paul Hindemith: Viola Sonatas (ECM 1330-32 NS)
>> Steve Tibbetts: Exploded View (ECM 1335)

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