Keith Jarrett: A Multitude of Angels (ECM 2500-03)

2500-03 X

Keith Jarrett
A Multitude of Angels

Keith Jarrett piano
Concert recordings October 1996
Modena, Teatro Comunale / Ferrara, Teatro Comunale
Torino, Teatro Regio / Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice
Played, produced and engineered by Keith Jarrett
Mastering: Christoph Stickel and Manfred Eicher at MSM Studio, München
An ECM Production
Release date: November 4, 2016

Fate is retrospective. It lies hidden for any number of years—in this case twenty—before cracking a smile just broad enough to enter our field of vision. Whether courted by demons or offered by angels, events have a way of feeling inevitable when serving as targets of remembrance. In these solo concerts, recorded October 1996 in four Italian cities, Keith Jarrett reminds us that fate can be as beautiful as it can be terrifying. In the album’s liner note, the pianist calls this a pinnacle of his career as a solo improviser. But the keyword there is the indefinite article, for it must be one pinnacle of many in a horizon filled with them. These being the last solo concerts he would give before a then-undefined disease locked his body into temporary submission, they also unlocked a self-awareness that even Jarrett would need time to discover.

Part I of his performance at Modena is so comforting that listeners cannot help but become more deeply aware of their own selves. Like an old friend with whom you pick up right where you left off, it feels immediate and true. Jarrett embraces us with gentle assurance, asking nothing more from us than the same in return. As he transitions into a groovier romp midway through, punctuating the ether with all the experiential knowledge he has in grasp, he whispers of a reverie yet to come. As always, his is the voice of an artist marveling at his own transmission. Part II, as often happens in a Jarrett solo sequences, contrasts flowing lyricism with abstract denouement—no less welcoming than the more hummable forays. His probing nature creates an atmosphere of exploration, of a willingness to scour every last inch of soil in search of archaeological clues to the nature of these sounds. It only feels spontaneous because for being unearthed after so much hibernation.

Part I of Ferrara is one of the most visceral journeys Jarrett has ever recorded. Throughout its 44-minute traversal, we encounter an entire biography, spun and re-spun until shames are filled with virtues. This anthem of the soul paints a twilit dream of such thin altitude that it can only break itself toward fulfilment of knowledge. This is a crowning achievement of alchemy, by which the piano’s tempered steel medium metamorphoses into a golden message of liberation. This is followed by an upbeat Part II, for which Jarrett digs so deep that it’s all we can do to shine a light into the proverbial tunnel to catch a glimpse of his feet as he slips from view.

Torino’s brooding opening reveals a geometric puzzle that can only be solved by mixing it. Through its process of productive error, Jarrett becomes more complete, walking as much as dancing through stages of learning. Part II likewise obliterates introverted theories with extroverted practice, turning complex shapes into universally translatable phrases, hammered into place by stomping feet.

Genova’s first part, freest of them all, is a kaleidoscope turning in the hands of a future self. As Jarrett cascades down the waterfall of his own acceptance of whatever notes may come, he follows rather than leads the way into a river of diaristic currents before Part II travels upstream to the source. An anthem for all time, devoid of time.

This four-disc set might be worthy of the adjective “monumental” if only it wasn’t so intimate. If anything, it’s humility incarnate. This is clearest when Jarrett’s encores take form as tried-and-true melodies. Whether in his loving rendition of “Danny Boy” in Modena or aching “Over the Rainbow” in Genova, he plays to show us who we are at any given moment. Even in the unnamed encores we find something human to hold on to, alive with outstretched hands. Such is this music’s ability to grow as we grow, so that the most timeworn phrase becomes new when we add more pages to the books of our lives.

Keith Jarrett: La Fenice (ECM 2601)

2601|02 X

Keith Jarrett
La Fenice

Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded live in concert July 19, 2006 at Gran Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Producer: Keith Jarrett
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Mastering: Christoph Stickel and Manfred Eicher at MSM Studio, München
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: October 19, 2018

In his 2014 book, Listen to Keith Jarrett! (available only in Japanese as: キース・ジャレットを聴け!), author Yasuki Nakayama doesn’t see the pianist as a “jazz” musician per se, but as one more closely aligned with the tradition of Bob Dylan. Not merely because he played Dylan on his early albums (“My Back Pages” and “Lay Lady Lay”), but because there’s a folk-rock groove common to both. This double-disc gem from the Jarrett solo archives, documenting a concert given on 19 July 2006 at Venice’s Gran Teatro, speaks truth to that spirit, casting a backward glance to some formative ECM ventures and beyond.

Parts I and II drop us into the flow of Jarrett’s unstoppable creativity, and it’s all we can do to achieve flotation in the wake of his improvisational vessel. That said, he isn’t out to drown us with his prowess or leave us dogpaddling for meaning. Rather, the purpose of his art is as naked as it is spontaneous. Every note conveys its inevitability: an answer to a question we never needed to ask in the first place. His frames have porous edges, each a sentient microbiome hungering for communication.

Where Part III brings us into an urgent yet bluesy solar system, slowing from a run to a crawl until a life has been fulfilled by its own telling, Part IV yields ecliptic lyricism. Jarrett cuts away each motif one umbilical cord at a time so that its own personality traits can emerge. Thus, he takes lessons of love and turns them into opportunities for self-assessment, growth, and milestones. Part V is a boppish affair with plenty of twists and turns to satisfy the eager listener. Its wondrous energy is superseded only by Part VIII. With feet stomping and voice churning, Jarrett transforms the piano into metaphysical substance, whereby the path to harmony must be paved with commitment.

The performance is consummated by a few inspired pieces. “The Sun Whose Rays,” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, acts as a fulcrum between the cinematic drama of Part VI and the family photograph developing in the solution of VII. It fits seamlessly into its surroundings, a drop of the terrestrial in a realm otherwise all its own. “My Wild Irish Rose” receives a heartfelt treatment. Poised yet dramatic, Jarrett is unafraid to unravel it with all its might. “Stella by Starlight” is a standard of a different stripe. Just in the way Jarrett plays it, one can feel the decades spent with his trio bubbling up from a thick broth of ideas. Lastly, we have “Blossom,” a deep nod to his 1974 classic Belonging. The title is more than appropriate, for his music likewise releases pollen to populate the world with its songs.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Live In Japan 93/96 (ECM 5504/05)

Live In Japan

Keith Jarrett Trio
Live In Japan 93/96

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
DVD 1
Recorded live in Tokyo, July 25, 1993 at Open Theater East
Director: Kaname Kawachi
Recorded by Toshio Yamanaka
Produced by Yasuhiko Sato
Executive producers: Hisao Ebine and Toshinari Koinuma
DVD 2
Recorded live in Tokyo, March 30, 1996 at Hitomi Memorial Hall
Director: Kaname Kawachi
Recorded by Toshio Yamanaka
Produced by Yasuhiko Sato
Executive producers: Hisao Ebine and Toshinari Koinuma
Concerts produced by Koinuma Music

It’s one thing to hear, but quite another to see, the Keith Jarrett Trio in action. For those unable to do so in a live setting, this two-DVD release is the next best thing. Like the Standards I/II set that precedes it, this one was recorded in Tokyo, but puts about a decade between those first Japan performances.

Japan 1

A 1993 gig at Open Theater East takes place in the heart of a sweltering summer. The air shines both with the music and with the rain that forces a large and dedicated audience to listen from beneath ponchos, and the musicians to play from beneath a clear canopy. The video quality is much finer this time around, and despite a rocky start born of technical issues and the weather, captures one of the trio’s finest sets available on any medium.

Japan 2

What separates this concert from the others available on DVD is the openness of the band’s aura. Jarrett more than ever plays for his appreciative listeners because he understands the bond into which nature has pushed them. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Jarrett’s The Köln Concert also famously began in the least ideal of conditions. Clearly, the pressure set him on an unprecedented creative path. And so, even as the trio struggles to feel out the climate in Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” (throughout which Jarrett must often wipe down the keyboard with a towel), all while latecomers snake to their seats, we can feel the groove emerging one muscle at a time. After the worldly touches of “Butch And Butch” and “Basin Street Blues,” we know that things have been set right.

Japan 3

Whereas in the previous Japan documents Peacock proved himself the man of the hour (although, to be sure, the breadth of his architectures in “If I Were A Bell” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” are as masterful as they come), it’s DeJohnette who produces the deepest hues of this rainbow. His sticks make evergreens like Sonny Rollins’s “Oleo” that much greener, and turn a 26-minute rendition of Miles Davis’s “Solar,” combined with Jarrett’s “Extension,” into a downright sacred space.

Japan 4

As with the 1986 concert on Standards I/II, the trio ends on three encores: “Bye Bye Blackbird,” Jarrett’s “The Cure,” and “I Thought About You.” In all of this one can sense a quiet storm of commitment to the music that flows from within. Melodies breathe, reborn, requiring open hearts to know their graces.

Japan 5

The year 1996 brings us to Hitomi Memorial Hall, where Jarrett and friends jump fully refreshed into “It Could Happen To You.” As always, Jarrett’s lyrical intro reveals little about the mosaics soon to follow. He takes the theme and its surrounding chords as a starting point down densely textured corridors. Which is, of course, what improvisation is all about: dungeon crawling without a map yet knowing that a destination will wrap its arms around you eventually. Jarrett seems to unravel every possible path into its fullest and on through the ballad “Never Let Me Go,” in which the pianist transcends the status of storyteller to that of myth keeper.

Japan 6

“Billie’s Bounce” is a staple not only for its composer, Charlie Parker, but also for Jarrett. As one of his prime expressive spaces, it layers all the bread and butter that make his art so nourishing. But we mustn’t forget that each member of this unit is equally important. In “Summer Night,” Peacock’s gentility is Jarrett’s flame, shining like the moon with a song to sing, and DeJohnette’s opening to “I’ll Remember April” shows a drummer with just as much to say from the bedrock, even as Jarrett evolves in real time through every change in the rapids above.

Japan 7

Other standbys such as “Mona Lisa” and crowd favorite “Autumn Leaves” open as many new avenues as they retread. With a crispness of feeling, Jarrett grabs the spotlight, while lively soloing from Peacock and fancy brushwork from DeJohnette make the picture whole. Even the familiar strains of “Last Night When We Were Young” become something new when they melt into Jarrett’s groovier “Carribean Sky.” It’s what one can always count on with this trio: playing as if for the first time.

Japan 8

The Bud Powell tune “John’s Abbey” commands from the sidelines as Peacock and DeJohnette go from canter to gallop and sets off a rapid-fire succession of closing tunes. A touching rendition of “My Funny Valentine” falls like a tear of quiet joy into Jarrett’s “Song,” in which the musicians open a book you always meant, and at last have the chance, to read again. “All The Things You Are” and Ray Bryant’s lesser-heard “Tonk” end the set with a satiating balance of delights. Nothing added, nothing taken away.

Japan 9

Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards I/II – Tokyo (ECM 5502/03)

Standards Tokyo

Keith Jarrett Trio
Standards I/II – Tokyo

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
DVD 1
Recorded live in Tokyo, February 15, 1985 at Koseinenkin Hall
Director: Kaname Kawachi
Recorded and mixed by Toshio Yamanaka
Production coordinator: Toshinari Koinuma
Produced by Masafumi Yamamoto
Executive producer: Hisao Ebine
DVD 2
Recorded live in Tokyo, October 26, 1986 at Hitomi Memorial Hall
Director: Kaname Kawachi
Recorded and mixed by Seigen Ono
Production coordinator: Toshinari Koinuma
Produced by Masafumi Yamamoto
Executive producer: Hisao Ebine
Concerts produced by Koinuma Music

Standards I/II is an invaluable two-DVD archive of the Keith Jarrett Trio’s inaugural tours of Japan. The first, recorded at Tokyo’s Koseinenkin Hall on 15 February 1985, offers the pianist at his heartfelt best in an intro as tender as a drizzling rain. So begins a smooth version of “I Wish I Knew,” through the lens of which bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette illuminate the spectrum of this format like few others can. What distinguishes them, as made clear in this concert opener, is their consistent ability to surprise. Sure, the technical prowess required to carry off such florid versions of “If I Should Lose You” and “It’s Easy To Remember” is formidable to say the least, but how much more virtuosity there is to be savored in the ballads. The night-laden memories of “Late Lament” add softness to the set list’s emerging palette, even as they whisper in a language as crystalline as all the rest. This is a diamond in which every occlusion represents an opportunity for clarity. “Stella By Starlight” starts with Peacock and Jarrett emoting in space and time without allegiance to either, working into a 14-minute groove so sublime that it melts.

Standards 1

To be sure, the more upbeat tunes have a crispness all their own. “If I Should Lose You” finds Jarrett listening intently to his bandmates, who exchange tactile glances in anticipation of DeJohnette’s rolling play. But whether the drummer is riding the rails in “It’s Easy To Remember” or adding choice accents to a diagonal “God Bless The Child,” he leaves plenty of room for his audience to grow in kind.

Standards 2

Jarrett originals such as “Rider” and “Prism” showcase his penchant for gospel and Byzantine grooves. In these tunes the band reaches a high point of synchronicity, working a detail-oriented art into a genre all its own. Even the lighter “So Tender” retains full emotional accuracy, going all in via Peacock’s supernal melodizing. All of which leads to sixteen and a half minutes of soulful unpacking in “Delaunay’s Dilemma.” Peacock fascinates again in his soloing toward the finish line, while DeJohnette sings even as he punches his way toward bluesy victory.

Standards 4

The second Japan concert was recorded at Hitomi Memorial Hall, also in Tokyo, on 26 October 1986. This standards extravaganza is the regression to the previous concert’s progression, but loses no sense of integrity for its introversion. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” eases into things with sweeping finesse such as only Jarrett can pull off. It is followed by “With A Song In My Heart,” the meditation of which morphs into some solid invigorations. Peacock and DeJohnette share a flawless rapport, the drummer popping off that snare like a machine gun.

Standards 5

So begins an alternating pattern of valleys and peaks, which by the end leave behind an even more cohesive program than the first. We next dip down into a tune the trio plays like no one else: “When You Wish Upon A Star.” Jarrett’s rendering makes even the most familiar blossom anew with emotional honesty. The mastery on display in this quintessential example is as pliant as Peacock’s strings, and carries over into the interlocking tempi of “All Of You.” For this, the bassist leaps forward with the first of two solos, moving from robust to filigreed without loss of syncopation.

Standards 6

The bassist turns out to be the sun of this solar system, lathering a mysterious yet lucid “Georgia On My Mind” and a duly nostalgic “When I Fall In Love” with enough light to spare in conversation with his bandmates. DeJohnette, for his part, airbrushes the night sky in “Blame It On My Youth” and lets the groove be known behind “Love Letters.” And in tandem with Jarrett, he feeds magic into the masterstroke of “You And The Night And The Music.” Unforgettable.

Standards 7

Each of the three encores—“On Green Dolphin Street,” “Woody ’n You,” and “Young And Foolish”—is a virtuosic gem set to twinkling and reminds us that Jarrett and his associates came this far only by selecting their divergences lovingly.

Keith Jarrett: Creation (ECM 2450)

Creation

Keith Jarrett
Creation

Keith Jarrett piano
Produced by Keith Jarrett
Recorded April, May, June and July 2014
Engineers: Martin Pearson and 
Ryu Kawashima (Tokyo)
Mastered at MSM Studios by Christoph Stickel and Manfred Eicher
Executive Producer: Manfred Eicher

Keith Jarrett’s second of two recordings released in 2015 is his most recent vintage, and a first in his discography for being a compilation of solo improvisations handpicked by the pianist from concerts in Toronto, Tokyo, Paris, and Rome the year before. As with all of the best solo recordings, this one develops patiently and with a sense of something so grandiose yet so intimate—the universe in a drop of ocean—that it’s all one can do to stay afloat in the sheer expanse of it all. Then again, Jarrett offers these pieces with such solemnity that we cannot help but feel invited to share in their rituals as equal partners.

Keith at the keyboard

Part I opens in deepest pulse, notes circling around one another like magnets that cannot decide whether they are polar complements or opposites. During the unfolding, it becomes clear that Jarrett was ready to pick up right where he left off on Rio, unraveling time through heart and fingers. The plodding nature of its construction does nothing to obscure a filament of light, which is then singled out by the nostalgic purview of Part II. In a promotional interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, one of a few marking his 70th birthday, Jarrett stressed his new role as producer: the creation of Creation was indeed his first attempt at sequencing. Once he had settled on the first track, this second one followed, and so on. If the emerging narrative feels intentional, it’s only because it has a will of its own.

Lyricism reigns in Part III, which sounds like every ballad you’ve never heard. Its clarity is also its mystery. That such a fully formed openness could crawl out of any human being is astonishing to consider—that is, unless you count the birth of a child, which may just be the only wonder in this world to surpass it. Part IV nourishes this theme of growth from infancy, tracing as it does the wide-eyed expression of new parenthood even as it prunes back the shadowy branches of mortality sprouting foliage overhead. As so often happens when these emotions become too concentrated to keep inside, Jarrett’s voice makes its tender emergences. “It’s potential limitlessness,” he says in the aforementioned interview of that singing. “My main job is listening.” And rightly so, for we may feel him listening as intently as we are to Part V, which helicopters to the ground like a flurry of maple seeds in summer before wiling away the heat under the shade of a less threatening tree. Impressions of the prairie, of undying wilderness and civilization in kind, intermingle with anthemic signatures until the piano seems an open font.

Part VI marks a turning point in the program from the merely soulful to the fully sacred. Its every hue is captured with archaeological precision before it is set free. As the album’s widest vista, it encompasses the fewest impulses, and only magnifies them to the point of such scope that they feel more populous than they are. Every rolling hill becomes a puff of dandelion before us, the dream of a gentle giant with no harm in its past…or future. Part VII chooses one path among many and follows it as far as it will go. The river’s flow of its desperation is strangely tempered by solitude and leads to the angular way station of Part VIII. Here the slumber is more fitful, but nevertheless unbroken by violence. Indeed, peace is the order of the day in the final Part IX, which by virtue of its placement is destined to speak in the language of departure.

With such an extensive archive as yet unrendered, one may no longer speak of “classics” in the plural when referencing Keith Jarrett’s output. It’s all part of one ongoing song to which our attention is as mandatory as breathing.

(To hear samples of Creation, click here.)

Keith Jarrett: Barber/Bartók (ECM New Series 2445)

Barber Bartók

Keith Jarrett
Barber/Bartók

Keith Jarrett piano
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken
Dennis Russell Davies conductor
New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra
Kazuyoshi Akiyama conductor
Samuel Barber
Concert recording, June 3, 1984 at Congresshalle, Saarbrücken
Engineer: Helmut Fackler
Balance engineer: Helmut David
Béla Bartók
Concert recording, January 30, 1985 at Kan’i Hoken Hall, Tokyo, as part of Tokyo Music Joy Festival
Engineer: unknown
Concert promoter: Toshinari Koinuma
Mastered at MSM Studios by Christoph Stickel
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

It’s tempting to trace overlaps between Keith Jarrett’s roles as a “classical” and “jazz” musician, but in this archival treasure I for once see the importance of their differences. It is precisely because Jarrett is so well versed, and indebted, to both spheres of influence that he seems to recognize the divergent types of rigor involved. In less uncertain terms: to merely conflate one with the other shortchanges both in the process. Hearing these recordings, now three decades old, we can be sure that many things have changed in the pianist’s approach to style and timbre just as we can be sure that whatever indefinable flame sustains him burns as brightly now as it did then.

What we have here are two recordings—one made in Germany in 1984, the other in Japan in 1985—of piano concertos and an additional encore of improvisation. Beyond that, however, we have a statement of almost divine purpose from a musician who listens to everything before he plays.

KJBB

The Piano Concerto of Samuel Barber (1910-1981) is first on the program and finds Jarrett fronting the Rundfunk-Sinfonienorchester Saarbrücken under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies. Davies is a natural fit, having previously conducted Jarrett on record as composer (see Ritual) and, more than a decade after this recording was reeled, as the featured soloist of Mozart’s own concertos. Written between 1960 and 1962, Barber’s earned him a second Pulitzer Prize and is largely considered to be among his masterworks. The sheer variety of the first movement alone tells us so. The introductory solo might seem spontaneous were it not for the first orchestra hit soon thereafter. Jarrett’s rhythmic acuity is in such fine form that the other instruments almost feel ornamental. The second movement more pastoral, and Jarrett plays it with such flowing intuition that again it sounds like his own creation. Here the very personality of the piano, through Barber’s writing, takes shape, like an infant growing to young adulthood in the span of five minutes. The final movement begins as if through a mysterious screen before stoking its hearth to roaring flame. More pronounced brass and percussion make it a captivating one, even if those faunal winds do creep around the occasional corner with indications of less complicated sojourns. Rousing rhythms from both soloist and orchestra trade places at a moment’s notice, leaving us spellbound.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Barber’s only piano concerto should be paired with the third of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), as soloist John Browning, who premiered the Barber in 1962, ranked it alongside the very same as a crowning achievement of the genre in the 20th-century. Bartók wrote his in the final year of his life, after having fled to America in the wake of World War II. Jarrett likewise renders it here far from home (in Tokyo, that is) with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra under Kazuyoshi Akiyama. The first movement is more soaring than the Barber, filled with minuscule nooks in which to store our fascinations. The denser textures and more overtly “pianistic” writing allow for great variation at the keyboard. Jarrett responds with that trademark touch, building punctuation marks into paragraphs and paragraphs into full narratives. The second movement, though graver, nevertheless achieves crystalline form. Among Bartók’s most profound pieces of writing, its strings emerge like sunrays at dawn. Jarrett coaxes the orchestra, even as it coaxes him, creating a feedback loop of lyrical unfolding. He attends with a patience that is noticeable even in the most percussively inflected portions. An unresolved ending anticipates the finale, a movement of such fitness that it practically leaps away from the musicians of its own accord. Through windswept strings, Hungarian folk dance motifs, and purposeful drama, Jarrett handles that final ascent with finesse.

Following this performance, Jarrett improvised a piece that has since taken the name “Tokyo Encore—Nothing But A Dream.” It’s a balladic jewel that diffuses the energy of the Bartók even while enhancing it, for here is a heart that respects not only the beauty of art, but more importantly the art of beauty, handling both as if they were of the same substance. Anyone else might bungle it, but Jarrett gives it such a genuine connection that we are reminded of his many gifts, not least of all those given to listeners fortunate enough to see their lives overlap with his.

(To hear samples of Barber/Bartók, click here.)

Jarrett/Haden/Motian: Hamburg ’72 (ECM 2422)

Hamburg 1972

Keith Jarrett
Charlie Haden
Paul Motian
Hamburg ’72

Keith Jarrett piano, soprano saxophone, flute, percussion
Charlie Haden double bass
Paul Motian drums, percussion
NDR-Jazz-Workshop 1972
Radio producer: Michael Naura
Recording engineer: Hans-Heinrich Breitkreuz
Recorded live June 14, 1972 in Hamburg
Remixed July 12, 2014 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug and Manfred Eicher
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

We may only speculate as to the untold Keith Jarrett riches still locked away in ECM’s vaults. The releases of Sleeper and, more recently, No End were but the tip of what is shaping up to be a majestic mountain indeed. Where those albums respectively showed us Jarrett’s European Quartet and homebody experiments, here lies something in between: a fearless document of a composer and improviser at the top of his game. Make that three.

We may make much of the fact that bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian are no longer with us, and that hearing them in this impervious creative triangle is like witnessing a resurrection. The trio was Jarrett’s first power group and had been in existence for six years already before the capture of this live recording at Hamburg’s NDR Funkhaus. Mixed by Manfred Eicher from the master tapes with engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in 2014—one day, we learn from the album’s press release, after Haden’s death—it is now in the public ear and here to stay.

Jarrett Hamburg

We may marvel at the nostalgic archaeology of Jarrett’s compositions, of which the thumbnail “Life, Dance” is exclusive to this album. Its breath of an intro gives the floor to Haden, who confirms mastery in less than three minutes. Haden and Jarrett slip hand-to-glove in “Everything That Lives Laments,” only now the pianist abandons keys for the spirit song of a wooden flute over Motian’s jangling percussion. Haden works the land until the piano sprouts from it like a tree. The sunny-side-up “Piece For Ornette” reminds us not only of Haden’s former tenure with Coleman, but also of what Jarrett might have been in another life: a soprano saxophonist of invention and merit. His dance finds purchase on an invigorating carpet, as laid down by attuned rhythmatists, lighting up the sky with firework potential. Motian is no less incendiary, but lights his playing as if by match to kerosene, keen to catch the ashes of Jarrett’s high-velocity chromatism in hands cupped like upturned cymbals. Lastly for this crop is “Take Me Back,” in which Haden’s echoes yield more reactive bassing. Equal parts jam band session (listen for Jarrett on tambourine for a spell before diving back into the keyboard) and gospel gush, it launches the trio into a prime, if not primal, groove.

We may further delight in the album’s outer edges. “Rainbow” opens with a hands-in-the-earth intro from Jarrett, whose first wife Margot pens the tune. In realizing the latter’s thematic structure, the full trio slides organically into place. Motian’s starry cymbals are foregrounded, while Jarrett caroms from one to another, leaving constellations in his wake. At the other end is “Song For Che,” which in this intimate, 15-minute version unclogs previously neglected arteries of interpretation. As the crowning jewel of Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, it defines personal and historic eras alike. After the leaping and lurking of Jarrett’s soprano, Haden works his arco magic to call the piano back into being before wading through the marsh alone toward closure, alive as ever.

We may do all of this and more, but forget that every act becomes part of the grander archive the moment it transpires. So while you’re enjoying this surprise dug up from the past with a glass of wine, take a moment to stare at your own reflection in that circle of burgundy and know that you are part of the music’s history as well.

(To hear samples of Hamburg ’72, click here.)

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance (ECM 2399)

Last Dance

Last Dance

Keith Jarrett piano
Charlie Haden double bass
Recording Producer: Keith Jarrett
Recorded March 2007 at Cavelight Studio
Engineer: Martin Pearson
Mastering at MSM Studios by Manfred Eicher and Christoph Stickel
Executive Producer: Manfred Eicher

Seeing as this was to be Charlie Haden’s final record, one could easy read mournful prophecy into Last Dance. To be sure, its poignancy is as heavy as the burden of the bassist’s loss. To do so, however, risks obscuring the fact that the music under its title stretches seams by virtue of an abundance of life. Born of the same sessions as Jasmine, the lovingly interpreted standards of Last Dance again find Haden in the company of pianist Keith Jarrett, who once characterized this rare partner as a musician who thinks through whatever melody comes his way.

Keith and Charlie

From the first few steps of “My Old Flame,” it’s clear these two men walk not together but along complementary paths, their shadows interlocking at any point along the trajectory of a tune. And by this forlorn song’s guiding hand, held above the starving ear like that of a Reiki master, an inner heat comes through. There is an album’s worth of feeling in this opener alone, and its flame is sustained in all that follows. It sets a proportional pace of love and loss that echoes throughout “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.” That latter brings an especially joyful yet contemplative tone to the emerging image.

Lest we fall into a homogeneous meditation, the duo adds one part spice for every two of sugar. Be they navigating the rhythmic changeups of “Dance Of The Infidels” or leaping through the sprinklers of “Everything Happens To Me,” Haden and Jarrett sand down every jagged edge they encounter. True to the title of “My Ship,” they do not soar so much as sail, opening canvas to wind and mapping its lead. Their grandest voyage is an integral take on “’Round Midnight.” In addition to Jarrett’s oceanic foundation, it boasts a superbly architected solo from Haden, who builds a spire of song, robust as a centuries-old tree at the bottom yet thin as a whisper up top.

Alternate takes of “Where Can I Go Without You” and “Goodbye” carry over from Jasmine with even grander intimacy. Despite the bittersweet core of both, they feel like new beginnings. Each is a door of appreciation opened in the listener, from which pours memories of Haden’s legacy, thus making room for new ones to come. The musicians are achingly present, even as they transcend minds toward lyrical enlightenment. They flip through the Great American Songbook not as one might a newspaper, but resolutely and sincerely, as if it were scripture.

Given the lengths of these tunes (averaging about nine minutes each), I like to think that Haden and Jarrett might have spun any of them into a lifetime of improvisation. And perhaps, in a way, they already have. They play off each other so artfully before trading a single solo that solos begin to feel more like roots than departures. No matter how virtuosic their skills, the melody remains forever paramount. This album is like one massive song that will continue to evolve even after those who left its traces have improvised their way into another plane of existence entirely. And while Last Dance may be called cinematic, it differs from cinema in one key aspect: where cinema so often concerns itself with fictional characters, here the subjects are anything but. They are so real, it almost hurts to witness their conversation.

If Jarrett is the body, Haden is the soul.

(To hear samples of Last Dance, watch the video above or click here.)