Keith Jarrett Trio: Bye Bye Blackbird (ECM 1467)

 

 

Keith Jarrett Trio
Bye Bye Blackbird

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded October 12, 1991 at Power Station, New York
Engineer: Jay Newland
Mastered by Jan Erik Kongshaug
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Seeing that Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette all once shared a stage with Miles Davis early on in their careers, it’s no wonder that they should step into New York’s Power Station studio, where the trio first took shape, for this classic tribute session. Recorded just 13 days after the Prince of Darkness’s passing, Bye Bye Blackbird sits above the rest for its sheer profundity of expression. The Keith Jarrett Trio is, of course, not an outfit to take itself lightly: with an average track length of over eight minutes, we can rest assured that every tune will be carried to conclusions far beyond our reckoning.

The title opener welcomes us into a nostalgic world, glimpses of what it must have been like to work with Miles. The high-end musings into which the music evolves speak to the ecstasy that any such musician must have felt at those moments of ethereal access. One cannot help but notice how energetic, for the most part, this session is. Between the swinging “Straight No Chaser” and “Butch And Butch,” there’s more than enough to get excited about. Jarrett is as fine as ever, singing his way through every spiraling change like a child skipping into the magic of “Summer Night.” Here, Peacock plays with a more consolatory air, allowing a tear or two before the 18.5-minute group improv “For Miles” lifts wheels from tarmac. After a spate from DeJohnette and a lush pianistic flowering, the cloud cover of our lingering grief fades with each new shift. The inescapable “I Thought About You” then brings us into the excerpted “Blackbird, Bye Bye,” closing us out with a kiss and a sigh.

Yet for me, the brushed beauties of “You Won’t Forget Me” ring most authentically. A reflective solo from Peacock buoys Jarrett, who stretches his own veils across the stars, cupping an entire city in his hands and keeping all who dwell within it warm against the chill of remorse. We will indeed not ever forget him.

A note on production. The sound of this recording is distinctive—compressed and sere. I imagine it was recorded with very little preparation, and the fact that it was later mastered by Jan Erik Kongshaug indicates an absence of engineers when the tracks were laid down. This gives the music an archival ring, reaching back to the atmosphere of the 60s, without which nothing on this heartfelt album would have existed. Whether calculated or not, I appreciate the throwback. One can feel this music on the verge of exploding, looking respectfully, distantly, and with deference to the past. Suitably recorded for a moment-in-time sort of feel, it is like the capsule of a bygone era unearthed in a silent world.

Keith Jarrett Trio: The Cure (ECM 1440)

 

Keith Jarrett Trio
The Cure

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded April 21, 1990 at Town Hall, New York
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Keith Jarrett starts yet another indispensable live trio recording off just right with a heaping helping of Thelonious in “Bemsha Swing” before Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock show us just what swing is all about as they jump in and stir up every fish in this jazzy sea. Already we cannot help but be bedazzled by DeJohnette’s understated cymbal work and Peacock’s deep digs for the recap. “Old Folks,” another long stretch of tireless invention, turns up the tenderness. As DeJohnette wrings out all sorts of colors from his brushes, from Jarrett we get a lifetime’s worth of memorable highs. Likewise from Peacock, who opens his solo against a watery backing. One of the trio’s finest grooves on record. Also invigorating is a rendition of “Woody’n You,” which boasts another fine solo from the man at the bass. A true winner. Contrasts abound between the optimism of “Golden Earrings” and the depth and sweep of “Body And Soul.” Yet again, Jarrett’s rhythm section astounds here with the complexity of its craft. Next is the title track, a glorious ride into the bluesy “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be.”

Yet the undisputed highlight of this set would have to be “Blame It On My Youth.” This soulful excursion, with its upward sweeping phrases (akin to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “All I Ask of You”), speaks with wondrous affinity. With his improvisatory wings in full spread, Jarrett molds this tune into something with shape, form, and structure. Such narrative perfection is hard to come by, and worth the price of admission alone for this lucky crowd.

Standing as a fine introduction to the gifts of this once-in-a-generation band, The Cure blends thoughtfulness, chops, and melodic strengths to astonishing effect. With all of this and more, it earns an easy spot in the Keith Jarrett Trio’s top five.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Still Live (ECM 1360/61)

Keith Jarrett Trio
Still Live

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded live, July 13, 1986 at Philharmonic Hall, Munich
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Mentioning the Keith Jarrett Trio and virtuosity in the same sentence is like breathing out after breathing in. That being said, none of said virtuosity would mean very much without the potent skeletons around which Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette string their veins and flesh. This particular trio has always laid its performances at the altar of melody, the music’s A to Z, and the respect shows in every moment.

“My Funny Valentine” opens this 1986 date from Munich, where a crowd had the great fortune (let’s get this straight right away) of witnessing one of the finest trio sets in history. Jarrett’s unmistakable intro plows a field of harmonic possibility and hauls its crop through the dazzle of DeJohnette’s peripheral tracings. Jarrett sings with the ecstatic pain of his exposition, unfolding a chip carving of interlocking geometries. A change of angle from an unnamable light source imparts soloed secrets. Another brings us back into the fold of those solemn keys, each a window into another full instrument. In the sprightly rendition of “Autumn Leaves” that follows, Peacock regales like a bird loosed from its thematic cage, spurred ever onward by a crisp snare. DeJohnette and Jarrett share an interplay that most of us could hardly dream of, feeding off each other’s fire around the wick of that perpetual bass. In fact, the more I listen to this trio, the more I go starry-eyed over Peacock. I feel it especially in “When I Fall In Love.” Burnished to perfection by DeJohnette’s brushes, this ballad also finds Jarrett winding just the right amount of tension to make it sing. Which brings us to “The Song Is You.” Jarrett speaks more carefully here, pausing for reflection and putting intelligent expectorations into every new cluster, acting the lit match to DeJohnette’s fireworks. He cuts out amid a dissipation of applause, allowing the rhythm section to tip the scales in its favor, though Jarrett’s return does bring this pot to a raging boil. DeJohnette’s occasional snare hit here is one of the more magical touches of the show.

The second disc begins with a chromatically infused introduction into the smoothness of “Come Rain Or Come Shine.” Peacock takes an early lead, dancing on air into Jarrett’s highflying banks and turns. Things take another slow turn in the Gurdjieff-like “Late Lament.” After an elegiac intro, DeJohnette wipes away the dust of time with his brushes to expose a familiar tale in which Peacock’s soulful and maple-grained steps dance their way into our hearts. Jarrett outdoes himself in “You And The Night And The Music,” which kicks off a 19-minute medley that is an album in and of itself and proves that, for all their sensitivity, DeJohnette and Peacock can swing hard. Jarrett is content in playing string games in the ether for a while before sliding down to earth on a monochromatic rainbow into lush fields of twilight. DeJohnette pulls some microscopic trickery on cymbals as a monotone left hand keeps us in suspension before unfolding “Someday My Prince Will Come.” One of the most remarkable transitions on jazz record. Peacock wraps this sonic present with a florid bow, while Jarrett takes this tune to fresh heights of syncopation. Next, “Billie’s Bounce” achieves an eerie balance of airiness and forward drive and highlights the man with the sticks, popping as many kernels as he can over the open fire of his kit. Last but not least is “I Remember Clifford,” which like a master’s sketch conveys all that it needs to with the merest strokes, slow and sure.

Peacock and DeJohnette are instinctively attuned to every interstice of Jarrett’s architecture. Their unity has arguably never meshed so closely as it does here. It seems impossible that this trio could have ever hit a single wrong note, and one finds nothing but perfection at every turn throughout Still Live. It is, in fact, one of the most magical live recordings in ECM’s annals, both in terms of content and technicality. Jarrett and company know just how to let loose without ever breaking seams. It is this holding together that keeps us wanting more. The Keith Jarrett Trio exemplifies the pinnacle of the art by living the art of the pinnacle.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Changeless (ECM 1392)

Keith Jarrett Trio
Changeless

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded October 14, 1987 (Denver); October 11, 1987 (Dallas); October 9, 1987 (Lexington); October 12, 1987 (Houston)
Engineer: Tom McKenney
Produced by Manfred Eicher

By the time of this release, Keith Jarrett’s trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette was at the height of its creative powers (actually, they started high and simply went higher). One could already hear from their dip into the standards pool that Jarrett’s plenitude of creativity was a force to be reckoned with, if not simply enjoyed, and all the more so in such dovetailed company. That being said, the group was capable of far more than just extending a well-worn tune to a 20-minute diatribe of philosophical proportions. Although Jarrett himself had established quite the reputation as a solo artist, he had only rarely overlaid those transparencies over the topography of his group work. But then there is “Dancing,” the machinations of which open this positively transcendent quatrain of live recordings with a protracted leap of improvisation. As per usual, Peacock sparks the trio’s deepest running flame, and his amplified bass line herein lulls us into a memorable groove. The ostinato feel builds through Jarrett’s grinding left hand, while DeJohnette’s never-cease-to-amazing subtleties draw us in. This energetic yet trance-like state leaves us suitably cleansed for “Endless,” which is one of the most gorgeous things the trio has ever put out. There’s something profound going on here, something that proves the title isn’t just a catchy cue, but rather signals a modus operandi for Jarrett and his cohorts. Peacock’s soloing is revelatory here and spins us into the filmic fade-in of “Lifeline.” With an ear turned inward and his heart beating a versa for every vice, Jarrett floats a flower of resolution down a neorealist canyon. Soil is scarce, though watered all the same by the occasional storms of a hidden life in “Ecstasy.” This aptly titled closer is a tide that simultaneously ebbs and flows, so that the shoreline is forever redrawn.

Perhaps by no coincidence of title, this disc is on par with Changes as a different and sacred side of the trio’s sonorous rites. In some ways these pieces read like Jarrett solos while at the same time being duly enriched by the presence of Peacock and DeJohnette. There is so much to be heard in the experience, and even more to be experienced in the heard.