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.

Keith Jarrett: A Biography

The late Ian Carr’s Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music long stood as the most complete portrait of its subject, who turns 76 this month. Being a product of 1991, however, the book begged a companion this side of the second millennium. In 2015, German music editor and biographer Wolfgang Sandner answered that call. Five years later, Jarrett’s youngest brother Chris, who lives and teaches in Germany, offered this superbly rendered, expanded and updated translation into English. The result, Keith Jarrett: A Biography, retreads some of the pianist’s formative milestones while stringing through them artful observations, interpretations and connections. 

We find ourselves transported back to Jarrett’s upbringing in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Sandner credits Jarrett’s mother for not putting her son on the pedestal that has separated so many young prodigies from the possibility of a normal childhood. This may be one reason why his genius was able to flourish so organically—untainted by the bane of expectation, he built a career on transcending it. 

We sit in the audience during his first solo recital at the age of seven—a mélange of classical and original compositions—waiting for the moment when jazz will enter the soundtrack of his past. We cling to the wall like proverbial flies as, in a mere five-year span, he joins forces with Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Jarrett’s tenure with the latter, who convinces him to join after multiple overtures, goes largely unrecorded and survives only through anecdote. By the time Jarrett parts ways with the Miles, it’s 1971, just two years after the founding of ECM Records by producer Manfred Eicher, with whom Jarrett will forge a lasting relationship. Said relationship yields albums—80 between 1971-2020—that were made to exist, just as they exist to have documented a pianist who “had not really become a soloist—he had actually always been one” (pg. 88). 

Jarrett’s “musical syntax” is as recognizable as it is challenging to distill in words. Whether in his traversals of the Great American Songbook with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette or his recording of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier (of which he characteristically remarked, “I was actually refusing more than I was giving”), the mosaic we think we know has revealed tile after unprecedented tile. 

All of which serves to validate Sandner’s decision to view jazz through a hypermodern lens, framing its latter-day developments as a recalibration of space among the rubble of the Second World War. And there, in the middle of it all, Jarrett spans the ocean like a bridge between the forward march of Americanism and the traumatic retrogression of the continent. This may be why Sandner concedes in his foreword: “Most of all, though, this music should be heard.” For a musician of Jarrett’s caliber, the best biography remains the discography.

(This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Keith Jarrett: Selected Recordings (:rarum 1)


Keith Jarrett
Selected Recordings
Release date: April 29, 2002

Between 2002 and 2004, and following its “Works” series in the mid 1980s, ECM Records produced twenty “Selected Recordings” compilations under the overarching title of :rarum. A fitting word (Latin for “rarity”) to designate the uniqueness of ECM’s output, scope, and vision. In addition to their archival significance and 24-bit remastering, these releases are special for being curated by the artists themselves. The first two—this one dedicated to Keith Jarrett and the next to Jan Garbarek—are double-disc lenses of insight into what these perennial figures deem important in their own creative lives. The relatively longer format allows for multiple pieces to be chosen from the same album, so that sequences within sequences are given room to breathe, grow, and invite fresh interpretations from the listener.

Jarrett’s self-regard may or may not match your own chosen path through his discography, but once immersed in his clavichord improvisations (1987’s Book Of Ways), it’s difficult to imagine a more personal way to begin. Unfolding in a style that is at once Baroque and postmodern, sounding as they do like the lute of a mute troubadour, these pieces come to us with an apparent sense of age and rustic simplicity. The recording regards these wonders in the moments of their creation—not so much traveling back in time as pulling the past forward to be with us in the present. Other unaccompanied endeavors are faithfully represented here. Worthy of note are his detailed exploration of the piano’s innards on “Munich, Part IV” (Concerts, 1982); the haunting, open-throated supernovas of his organ improvisation, “Hymn Of Remembrance” (Hymns/Spheres, 1976); and his quiet build from stillness to melodic monument in “Recitative” (Dark Intervals, 1988). The latter album is perhaps among his most overlooked masterstrokes and further yields the anthemic gem of “Americana.”

Even deeper self-examinations await in his soprano saxophone playing, artfully represented in two tracks from 1981’s Invocations/The Moth and the Flame, and in his multi-instrumental Spirits from 1986, on which he emotes through an array of winds and percussion besides. Thus reduced to five selections (numbers 16, 20, 2, 13, and 25, for those keeping score), the full brunt of that divisive album’s 26 is made more palatable and clarifies just how much terrain he could cover when left to his own devices.

With the exception of the solo concerts, Jarrett’s finest pianism was always to be found with two legendary bands. The first was his so-called European Quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen, of whose phenomenal run is offered a broad cross-section. From the unabashed confidence of “’Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” (Belonging, 1974) and the lyrical integrations of “My Song” (from the 1978 album of the same name) all the way to the sharp-edged blues of “Late Night Willie” (Personal Mountains, 1989), the promise of homecoming is never far. In addition to sporting one of the few rhythm sections substantial enough to sustain Jarrett’s high metabolism, the quartet also found an ideal harmonic partner for him in Garbarek.

And then, of course, there is the “Standards Trio” with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. More than a band (and, by that measure, more than a standards machine), it was a world unto itself where timeless tunes and spontaneous miracles danced as equals. The title track of 1991’s The Cure is as much atmospherically as it is technically unchained, while 1995’s At The Blue Note shows a tessellated rapport in “Bop-Be” and “No Lonely Nights.”

At the risk of belaboring a simile I’ve used before, Jarrett’s oeuvre is like a globe that one could spin and land a finger on anywhere to plot a path of genius. In this collection, we find as intimate an itinerary as one could chart through the experiences of an artist without equal, not even to himself.

Keith Jarrett: Works


Keith Jarrett
Release date: April 1, 1985

If the artists represented by ECM’s “Works” series so far have been princes, then Keith Jarrett would be candidate for their king. The pianist (and multi-instrumentalist besides), composer, and interpreter continues to chart the most prolific path through the label’s history in solo, trio, and quartet settings, as well as through the lenses of multiple genres. For this compilation, we encounter all of those strands, save for his trio outings, which would warrant a collection in and of itself.

Two tunes from his second European Quartet album, 1978’s My Song, touch our collective soul with a highly individualistic tone. “Country” reinscribes the unrepeatable nature of the band. From the ways in which piano and Jan Garbarek’s tenor saxophone lay down the theme while the rhythm section of bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen emotes with equal assurance in horizontal (not vertical) relation to the exuberant restraint of Jarrett’s grounding throughout, it’s a tune that feels as much like a farewell as a hello. We then find ourselves walking “The Journey Home.” As Garbarek leads with melodic fortitude, he sets up a welcoming groove of light. Christensen is especially three-dimensional, while Jarrett defers to Garbarek’s charms and really only dominates in the final slowdown.

From that rich soundscape to the wonders of unaccompanied hideaways, we turn to “Ritooria,” from Jarrett’s 1972 ECM debut, Facing You. Like a candle burning in the dark for all who have ears to sense its dancing flame, it holds on to its wick in the left hand while the right flickers erratically yet connectedly. Another lone effort, Staircase, yields Part II of that 1977’s album’s title triptych. If you haven’t already revisited it, let this track remind you of it as one of Jarrett’s finest studio achievements alone at the piano. Like two transparencies of the same image overlapped yet slightly askew, it develops through not-quite-parallel voices, ending in almost ritualistic space. The only live solo selection is “Nagoya Part IIb (Encore)” from 1989’s Sun Bear Concerts. Treading the keyboard as if it were water, Jarrett holds every note in place before finding rest in gentle chords.

Between these relatively direct expressions of personal energy, Jarrett the composer is represented by the 2nd movement of his String Quartet, as performed by the Fritz Sonnleitner Quartet on 1974’s In The Light. Despite being a lovely work in its own right, it feels straightjacketed in its present company. (I might have chosen the beautiful Metamorphosis for flute and strings from that same program instead.) Somewhere in between those two poles of classicalist and improviser is Jarrett’s often-overlooked 1981 masterpiece Invocations/The Moth and the Flame, from which “Invocations (Recognition)” is excerpted. A semi-waltzing rhythm via pipe organ sets up an echoing soprano saxophone, warped and yet flowing in the right direction at any given moment. All of which serves to remind us that we are indeed nothing but moths in the presence of Jarrett’s alluring combustion, struggling to recreate our shape in the air long enough to be regarded as (to reference a much later title) a multitude of angels struggling to record what can never be notated, except on the ephemeral paper of the flesh.

Keith Jarrett @ 75

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.

ME Sequence

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.

Interview: Keith Jarrett conducted by Timothy Hill

KJ front

This ultra-rare promotional CD from 1994 contains an interview with Keith Jarrett conducted by Timothy Hill. Much of the interview is spent discussing the backstory and recording circumstances of At The Deer Head Inn, Jarrett’s phenomenal live album with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, and Bridge Of Light, a program of classical music composed by Jarrett.

When Jarrett first encountered the Deer Head Inn itself, it was the only place of its kind in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where jazz wasn’t exactly on the hearts and minds of communities far more concerned with everyday practicalities. Jarrett was living in Allentown, where jazz was limited to generic rooms at best. Deer Head was far enough away that he wasn’t really aware of it until he got his first regular gig there, playing drums for local pianist (and Jarret’s personal friend) Johnny Coates. “I learned a lot about what not to do twice,” he recalls of those early gigging days, long before the piano became his forte. After two summers of grabbing the Deer Head by its antlers, sitting in sometimes on guitar (which, incidentally, earned him an invitation from Stan Getz to play in a Calypso band), he left that part of his history behind to dive headlong into his career as a pianist. By the time the Deer Head gig materialized, he hadn’t played there as pianist for nearly three decades.

Many elements came together for that performance to make it what it was. First, the venue was a “piano room” in the truest sense, a place of intimate construction that practically begged for Jarrett’s song. Second was the fact that drummer Jack DeJohnette, his trio go-to, was unable to make it, leading Motian to fill in at the last minute. Third was the “behavior and concentration” of everyone involved—a rapt attention he attributes at least in part to Motian’s involvement. When things come together like that, following a natural flow without depending on “large things,” as he puts it, magic is born.

Jarrett further bows to a certain magic in the recording itself. He mentions the “crucial little keys” of how a player is feeling, and how technology may struggle to capture those details in such a beautiful way. In this case, however, they shine through with utmost clarity, including the vocal exclamations for which he is (in)famously known. “I should’ve written them a thank you note,” he quips, speaking of Peacock and Motian, who he makes a point of noting added their own whoops of excitement in the heat of the moment. “If I’m going to be the culprit, let it be all three of us.” The conversation turns naturally to the tune “Chandra” (included along with “It’s Easy To Remember” at the end of this CD), which Jarrett praises for Motian’s avoidance of sticks altogether. Where any drummer would start with brushes and switch to the punctuation of sticks, Motian’s continuous brushing spoke directly to Jarrett’s heart: “This is what we’ve got now. This is what it is. And it put me in another place, where the expectations were not the same as they would be every time you play.” Thus did Motian pull everyone into the center of things.

At around the time that Bridge Of Light was coming together, he was already working on a commission from Japan to write the Adagio for oboe and string orchestra featured on the album. When told there would be time left in the program, his thoughts turned to the Elegy he was writing for his Hungarian grandmother. Taking such an active role in directing that recording was, for him, like “being in charge of a country,” whereas Deer Head was like “being not in charge and knowing it would be okay.” Such polar, yet parallel, opposites would seem to define his career. At Deer Head, for example, there wasn’t any music until it was played, whereas in a classical setting, anxieties toward perfection ran high. Classical musicians, he avers, should be less obsessed over playing the same music better than anyone else and more concerned about being themselves enough not to care, allowing the music to “bloom for itself” instead. And if blooming is what it’s all about, then Bridge (from which the Adagio and the “Dance” of Jarrett’s violin sonata are also included here) is a veritable field of life.

“You don’t have to be emphatic when you’re doing something beautiful,” says Jarrett of the creative process. “If you emphasize the beauty of something, you might step on it.” And while one might easily flag this statement for hypocrisy, spoken as it is by someone who can stretch a concert staple like “Autumn Leaves” to well over 20 minutes, there’s a sense that Jarrett is always saying what needs to be said and, accordingly, wasting no notes whenever he’s “on.” As he observes of jazz: “It would be as though you were to write poetry in more than one language at a time…and make it somehow into a coherent language of its own.”

As interesting as the above insights are, at best I would say this rarity has value only as an archival curiosity for the Jarrett completist, though it’s always fascinating to hear him speak of his own work. Either way, the objects of this discussion tell more of their past, present, and future than even he could, and perhaps our journey to find and experience them is the strongest bridge of all.


Keith Jarrett: Salle Pleyel Paris 1992


Recorded at Salle Pleyel in Paris on October 25, 1992 and produced by Manfred Eicher, this was a limited promotional item offered by the French retail chain Fnac to customers who purchased two qualifying ECM or ECM New Series CDs. Consisting of two exclusive tracks, it’s a poignant snapshot of Jarrett atop a mountain no one else is likely ever to scale.

His perennial encore, “Over The Rainbow,” glistens with lyrical suppleness. Looking back as we can through the lens of retrospection, we find in it the story of an entire career, if not also the life it defines: from the initial stirrings of talent that surely twitched in the young pianist’s fingers, through the chronic fatigue syndrome that would all but hijack his gifts four years later (incidentally, when this disc was offered), and beyond a recovery whose afterglow continues to illuminate ears in the darkest hours. No matter how sweeping, dramatic, and turbulent the experiences that came before, we can hold vigil in these fleeting moments of intimacy before they turn away from us to seek the hand of an ether we have yet to touch.

In the wake of this inward glance, the exuberance of Jarrett’s own “C The Blues” feels like a splash of water on the face. Romping through memories as if they were a muddy riverbank along which the dead and the living dance in celebration of kinship, Jarrett gives every mouth a voice. The colorful ornaments of his right hand are the nurture to his left’s nature, each note a word spoken, a relationship formed, a spirit harnessed, only to fade as quickly as it forms. Like the fog of a window about to be defrosted, it resolves into a clarity of vision such as only he can provide.

These same two tracks also appeared on a CD included with issue No. 672 of the French magazine Jazz in May of 2015:

Jazz Magazine

Jazz Magazine CD

Keith Jarrett: Munich 2016 (ECM 2667/68)

2667|68 X

Keith Jarrett
Munich 2016

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded live July 16, 2016
at Philharmonic Hall, Munich
Producer: Keith Jarrett
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 1, 2019

The more I listen to Keith Jarrett’s improvised concerts, the more I shy away from the adjective “solo” to describe them. Not because I live under a delusion that it isn’t just him translating energies that 99.99 percent of us could only hope to detect, but because each iteration of this asymptotic journey at the piano reminds me of the ghost of yet another former self who goes on playing in an alternate reality even after he lifts his hands and takes a bow amid the applause of this one.

Throughout this two-disc recording, which documents a July 16th performance in the city and year of its title, Jarrett unveils 12 numbered sculptures of possibility, each more freestanding than the last. Not that the path between them is linear. What begins in Part I—the set’s longest, just shy of 14 minutes—as a many-tentacled deep sea creature has by Part III already morphed into a landbound shepherd. The latter’s hymnal qualities light a gospel fire in the underground railroad lantern of Part IV before dissolving into the child’s dream that is Part V.

Part VI marks another change of face, uniting questions of mountains above with answers of valleys below. The contortions of Parts VII, IX, and XII are ages between, giving way to meditations in which un-pressed keys speak as truthfully as their contacted neighbors. Few are so profound in this regard as Part XI, of which a certain air of finality is only as permanent as the wind on which it’s written. It whispers as an antidote to the shouting match that has become our lives.

In light of all this, we get a trinity of shades in Jarrett’s choice of encores. In “Answer Me, My Love,” he embraces the past as if it were a dying future. In “It’s A Lonesome Old Town,” he embraces the present as if it were the only hope of peace. And in “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” he lets go of all three states of mind, knowing that honesty of expression is the only wave we can catch to keep him visible as he follows one horizon in search of the next.

Keith Jarrett: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I (ECM New Series 2627/28)

2627|28 X

Keith Jarrett
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I

Keith Jarrett piano
Concert recording, March 7, 1987
at Troy Saving Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York
Engineer: Tom McKenney
Mastering: Christoph Stickel
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: June 14, 2019

After recording Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier for ECM on piano in February of 1987, on the 7th of March that same year he performed it live at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in upstate New York. Throughout this archival recording, we see a side of Jarrett not so much hidden as broken wide open in his life as an improviser. His restraint is poetry in motion, figuring this masterful music with a touch that’s intimately bound to the score. Even in the more dramatic flourishes of the c minor and C-sharp major preludes, there’s a sense that he is submerging any impulse to flourish in a bath of deference.


In Jarrett’s hands, each pairing of prelude and fugue takes on the very character one presumes it was meant to have: which is to say, standing with resolute individuality as part of an interlocking embrace that cannot be broken apart. Issuing from these portals is a spiritual force that weaves between realms as Jarrett between notes. When he slips from the realm of C into that of D, where the latter’s major dyad feels blessed by a watery hand, he clarifies Bach’s inversions, rendering minor keys as stages for joy and their major counterparts as jumping points for faith.


Whereas D has its playful veneer, E casts aside all notion of folly and turns even the liveliest fugue into a fierce puzzle of longing. The e-flat prelude is an especially ponderous example of composer and interpreter working in harmony to communicate truth. That said, there’s no Platonic ideal lurking within, but rather a feeling tailored to every listener. If any exuberance is to be found in this phase of the journey, it’s in the e minor fugue, but even there it looks rather than speaks through a filter of tangled intentions. In light of this, the F major prelude’s wider net lets through more than it catches, interested as it is in preserving the terms of its passage. Landfall is suspended until the F-sharp major prelude, wherein Jarrett wears the tenderest of hearts on his muscled sleeve, and pulls out a treasure map in the key of f-sharp minor.

And treasure he does indeed find in G terrain, of which major and minor preludes yield their respective fugal gems. All the while, rewards of the A major prelude have awaited our triumphal return, hoisting up flags and drinks alike in the manner of tribute. Thus, we are primed for the B-flat major prelude, in which Jarrett’s quick-thinking fingers revel in the joy of safety. In closing, the b minor pairing embroiders a dream in waking filament. Its every stepwise turn introduces a new color in the tapestry and tempers the final fugue with intimations of obscurity, morality, and nothingness. The flesh may only whisper, but by now we know the calling of a higher power whose volume—though compressed into a single keyboard—matches that of millions more in aggregate.