In celebration of Keith Jarrett’s 75th birthday, ECM has gifted listeners with two very special albums. The first is a teaser encore from the upcoming Live from Budapest album, slated for a Fall 2020 release. In anticipation of what is sure to be a worthy live document, we encounter the beautiful suspensions of “Answer Me,” in which Jarrett molds the piano in loving clay.
Despite being recorded not too long ago (July 3, 2016 to be precise), it sings to us from a distance, held up to the ear like a conch shell in which the past of another has been sheltered from the ravages of time. And yet, the more we listen back on these memories, the more they become folded into our own, as if they had been living inside us all along. This is what Jarrett at his best can achieve: whether spontaneously improvising or digging deep into the tried and true, he makes it all feel so inevitable. The music has always been there, waiting to be drawn out by the right pair of hands. And whose hands could be more effective than his to articulate a melody in the language of sunlight through breeze-shaken leaves.
The second, and more substantial, present is Keith Jarrett 75, a sequence of five tracks curated by producer Manfred Eicher himself. Opening with the churned butter of “Never Let Me Go” (Standards, Vol. 2), it flows in stride with the passage of time. Perennial partners Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette are more than a rhythm section, but organs of the same body returning home after a long sojourn. In Jarrett’s vocalizations we hear the ache of it all, pooling like rain in cupped flowers, flung into the air by Peacock’s organic solo. And speaking of solo, we transition into that very territory with Part VII of Creation. In this rolling wave of spirit, sentient waters and thoughtless continents meet to share their silences.
Another jump in time and mood warps us to Jarrett’s European quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. Together, they unpack the largest cargo from the oceanic vessel that is “Personal Mountains.” A prototypical example of forward motion in music, it sustains inspiration from start to finish, Garbarek gilding the edges of Jarrett’s eyes, themselves closed in surrender. A shuffle of the deck brings us to the landmark duo record Jasmine with bassist Charlie Haden for a gently swinging take on “No Moon At All.” As sweet as it is sincere, it touches the soul with inspiration. Last but not least is “Flying Pt. 1” from Changes. A glorious soar through skies where wingtips catch clouds and leave melodic trails in their wake, it opens Jarrett’s inimitable trio like a book of truisms and waits for us to catch up with the confirmation of experience. The more exciting the music gets, the more we understand the power of harmony at altitudes beyond the audible.