Keith Jarrett: Budapest Concert (ECM 2700)

Keith Jarrett
Budapest Concert

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded live July 3, 2016
at Béla Bartók Concert Hall, Budapest
Producer: Keith Jarrett
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Cover photo: Martin Hangen
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 30, 2020

From the 2016 European tour that gifted us with Munich 2016 comes this improvised solo concert from Keith Jarrett recorded at Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest. The pianist’s Hungarian heritage and love of the venue’s namesake gave the experience a homecoming feel that fed into every note he rendered, whether spontaneous or previously held in mind. Jarrett has since held the result in high regard as epitomizing what he is capable of at the keyboard—and rightly so, because what we have here is crafted in a spirit of such welcome that one might easily forget the album was released during a time of social distancing and quarantines.

In twelve parts spanning two CDs, Jarrett digs deep within to give much without. I offer this image as something more than a metaphor; he is physically mining his cells in search of the ore that we on the outside might call splendor. That said, there’s nothing lofty about the music that results from this process of elimination. If anything, it builds ever downward to build a private kingdom. Remarkable, then, that we might share in its retrospective pleasures.

From the moment Jarrett lays hands to instrument, he touches fertile soil from which to yield the striking contrast of his shadowy left and playful right. A dance-like quality struggles to be heard but instead feels the temptation of convention slip off like clothing that is far too big for its body. This music is also very fibrous, as if Jarrett were tying a knot, fraying the leftover end, then tying a smaller one, and so on until even his nimble fingers can no longer separate the strands. Part II works its way into the silhouette dreamed of on a traveler’s pillow. It turns this way and that but only changes its outline, neither approaching nor receding. After Part III pulls out the weeds, Part IV offers a dark, jazzy affair with smoky trails and squinting brilliance. Though restrained, it feels unbound in its emotional impulses, as ancient as an image on a cave wall drawn in the dying light of day. So begins an epic harvest of which the ripest fruits are picked in rhythms woven from strands of convolution, development, and dissolution. The sweetest among them is Part VII, which elicits some of the most astonishing textures Jarrett has ever liberated. It moves with a depth of feeling that can only have been arrived at when one has less of life ahead of them than behind. Near contenders include Part V, a lyrical aside that curls like a diagram of relativity into the innermost thoughts of childhood, and Part VIII, the near-constant fluttering of which evokes the wings of an angel just out of reach.

After the bluesy Part XII, Jarrett takes an evolutionary leap from fundament to firmament in two encores: a sweeping take on “It’s A Lonesome Old Town” and the achingly comforting “Answer Me, My Love.” Thus, we are left with a lifetime’s worth of listening in the dimensions of a delineated object. And even as the atmospheric shifts of the heart turn their eyes toward a brighter tomorrow, they never seem to forget the lightless void from which they emerged into being.

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