Keith Jarrett: Vienna Concert (ECM 1481)

Keith Jarrett
Vienna Concert

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded July 13, 1991 at the Vienna State Opera
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Keith Jarrett

“I have courted the fire for a very long time, and many sparks have flown in the past, but the music on this recording speaks, finally, the language of the flame itself.” So writes Keith Jarrett in the liner notes to a stunning account of his solo improvised performance at the Vienna State Opera in July of 1991. In expressing as much, Jarrett articulates what is so difficult to articulate: that intangible source from which he gathers the energy to emote so freely at the keyboard.

Part I begins in solitude before a clearly rapt audience. Its sweet and comforting lullaby draws a paternal curtain around a prelude for the rolling dream to come. Jarrett digs his left hand into the soil, planting with his right a prairie’s worth of flowers, weeds, and wildlife. It is a plodding journey whose trail is brought about by many feet pulled from the muddy undertow and spun from threads of almost obsessive reflection. The comportment of this music plunges deeper even as it arches its neck ever skyward, arms lost and wings gained. Knowledge of how to use those wings is what Jarrett seems after, for the moment he sets feet to ground, he makes of the world a runway for the soul, tumbling his way into learning. His fingers dance in circles, kicking up a cyclone of activity and opening into a sweeping aerial view. He breaks apart the sun and shows us its inner shadows. In the end: only triumph and rapture, a body torn in two to unify the above and below, showing a harp-like touch in those final breaths. Like an expertly shucked cob of corn, it owes its life to weathered hands and grains hungry for mineral earth.

Part II is more suspended, forlorn and characterized by a watery, Byzantine touch. Jarrett plays the piano here as if strumming it, weaving a fairytale’s spell, light through a window whose glass is molten and alive. Tracing smiles through the sky in a swing built for tintinnabulation, he brands a sunset dotted and dashed by recollection. Quiet houses on the horizon, children’s laughter long-faded between them. Sticks that once were swords hunch into gnarled canes. Jarrett’s unfolding flower reaches its peak of sonic pollination and blends into a folk song from afar, from deep within, from inside and outside, from no one and all of us.

At some point, I’ve learned to stop comparing every Jarrett solo concert to the Köln. If the imagery it inspires in me is any indication, each is its own story. His is not a creative life spent climbing one peak, but one that, by its end, will have left a landscape filled with them for as far as the eye can see.

<< Heiner Goebbels: SHADOW/Landscape With Argonauts (ECM 1480)
>> Meredith Monk: Facing North (ECM 1482 NS)

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