Keith Jarrett: Radiance (ECM 1960/61)


Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett piano
Radiance, Parts I-XIII
Recorded live, October 27, 2002 at Osaka Festival Hall
Radiance, Parts XIV-XVII
Recorded live, October 30, 2002 at Metropolitan Festival Hall, Tokyo
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Assistant engineer: Yoshihiro Suzuki

“We are all players and we are all being played.”
–Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett is a composer without a score, a melody with a body. He is a soul in constant transition. Such is life.

In his liner notes, Jarrett tells us he was trying something new with these solo improvised performances (his first in 15 years after an illness-ridden hiatus), forging paths for the most part devoid of melodic and motivic footholds, and fragmenting the epic journeys for which he’d come to be known. Durations of tracks—ranging from from a minute and a half (Parts IV, XI) to 14 minutes (Parts X, XIV, XVII)—speak to the program’s cellular makeup.

Parts I through XIII are cumulative, in the sense that each could not have existed without the other. Jarrett: “I was slightly shocked to notice that the concert had arranged itself into a musical structure despite my every effort to be oblivious to the overall outcome.” That such structure emerged at all is testament to his soul, which lives and breathes for the communication of his art, and to the music he unearths, all the more everlasting for being unplanned. One can hear him thinking through the notes as if they were words in a James Joyce novel, skimming just enough meaning off the top to tell a story but also leaving behind so much to discover during future listens. Passages of controlled frustration blend into heavenly resolutions, though one is always quick to succumb to the other. This is especially true in Part I, which sets a precedent for open reflection, shuffling honesty into a deck without spades.

Occasional mechanical rhythms (Parts II, VIII, and especially the vampy XII) demonstrate the unpredictability of Newton’s clockwork universe, sometimes digging so deep into the earth that they come out the other side and continue onward toward neighboring galaxies. Reveries, on the other hand, are fragrant and abundant (Parts III, VI, IX, XIII). In these Jarrett wanders like the traveler whose satchel has been emptied of its material artifacts yet which overflows with spiritual relics of the journey that emptied it. He takes in the sights along with the sounds, folds each into his tattered scrapbook, and stores their energy for the next concert. As effective as these snapshots are, even more so are the abstract and beguiling ones. In this respect, the heavily sustain-pedaled Part V is a masterful stretch. Here Jarrett turns the keys into putty and flexes the piano’s infrastructure to a breaking point. Part X, for its breadth and sheer melodic force, is another highlight that combines reverence with fearless distortions.

Parts XIV through XVII are excerpted from the concert recorded in full on ECM’s Tokyo Solo DVD, and demonstrate the vignette-oriented Jarrett to clearest effect. There is playfulness in these concluding acts, a dramaturgy of detail and respect for spontaneous character. So easy are they to get swept up in that the urge to sing along may be almost as strong as that which compels Jarrett to emote in just that way. That song becomes our tether to land as the tidal currents of Part XVII take us back to the Mother Ocean, where swims our shared love for the sounds that kept us from sinking in the first place.

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