The Melody At Night, With You
Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded 1998 at Cavelight Studio
Engineer: Keith Jarrett
Produced by Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher
The Melody At Night, With You was my first Keith Jarrett solo album. And perhaps it was in a way for Jarrett, too. It interprets some of the greatest names in the American songbook—Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, Oscar Levant, among others—yet tells their stories as if we’ve never heard them before. More than just another standards album in absence of his trio, this is the pianist at his purest. He approaches the music as a composer approaches a blank staff: which is to say, with wonder.
At the time of this recording, Jarrett was diagnosed with what was then known as fibromyalgia, a condition that variously affects muscles and nerves, leaving sufferers chronically fatigued. This meant that Jarrett was unable to perform, and for a while his fingers never touched a key. This in the wake of his highly successful Tokyo ’96, released after the affliction had taken root. Yet surely nothing could staunch the pilot light from which he had borrowed so much flame in his career, and it was this, along with his love for wife Rose Anne (to whom the album bears dedication), that informed his return to playing. To call this album intimate would be an understatement, recorded as it was under cover of darkness, gently, sweetly. Skin thus shed, he is a cause without a rebel, open to the vision of love that holds us in our darkest hour.
The album divides songs internally, balancing contradictory impulses in elegant weave. Gone are the transcendent moonwalks of yore. In their place are gravid statements of purpose. From the contact of “I Loves You Porgy,” the physicality of his playing is immediately apparent as every stretch of sinew and bone works itself back into flexible life. Treading a fine line between linear melody and cloudbursts of chords, between song and circumstance, it is the Rosetta Stone for all that issues from its stirrings. “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” similarly mixes ecstasy into regret, thereby revealing a contradiction of love that cannot be shaken. Jarrett’s voice emerges, the groan of a waking giant. “Don’t Ever Leave Me” balances uncertainty and conviction by way of his fall-off-the-bone storytelling.
“Someone To Watch Over Me” sits at the fulcrum. An unadulterated gaze into the heart of things, it opens a window with every note and breathes light into the “Meditation” that flows from his touching rendition of “Blame It On My Youth.” With this one realizes, if not already, that something profound is going on—not only for the miraculous tinge of recovery that permeates, but also because of the way it emphasizes the vitality of music, as if it simply must be heard. This would also seem to be the message encoded into “Something To Remember You By.” Here the balance is of silt and crystal, while in “Be My Love” it is tears and laughter. “I’m Through With Love” ends on a bittersweet note, a fleeting coda that is anything but in its scope. Jarrett fleshes out the program with a pair of traditional favorites. In both, he pours his soul in the endings. What with the chromatic appliqué in the descending tail of “My Wild Irish Rose” and the string game of the heart that is “Shenandoah,” there is nothing more to do than close one’s eyes and breathe.
In this respect, The Melody At Night, With You is also a love letter to the songs themselves, for by the end the gift of performance gets lost in the billowing curtain of time, lingering as the memory of a dream, now dispelled in the morning light for an intensity that would otherwise obliterate us.
If this is where Jarrett’s heart lives, may it never die.