Keith Jarrett: My Song (ECM 1115)

 

Keith Jarrett
My Song

Keith Jarrett piano, percussion
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded November 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

From the moment we step into the transport of Keith Jarrett’s European quartet, we know we are in for a comforting ride filled with lush scenery and temperate climes. “Questar” opens this set of six Jarrett originals by unfolding a melodic altar for the saxophonic offerings of Jan Garbarek, who trades prime invocations with Jarrett in a formula that pervades the rest of the album to great success. The gorgeous title track, in which we encounter a slightly mournful but always majestic invocation, widens the music’s embrace. Garbarek’s pleasing yet incisive tone works wonders and continues to lead the way in “Tabarka,” where nostalgia shares its berth with the dripping shadows of resolution, and which protects the Michael Naura-like buoyancy of “Country” like a dome over Palle Danielsson’s wonderful solo on bass.

Jarrett cultivates the talents of his fellow musicians in a garden rife with unique hybrids. While his left hand is firmly rooted in the soil of his rhythm section, his right seems to frolic in the rain that nourishes it, changing from liquid to gas and back to liquid in a perpetual cycle of self-renewal. He comes across as nothing less than perfection, sharing in this democratic spread of passion. The colorful scatterings of his solo in “Mandala,” for example, are made all the more so for the fantastic rhythm section backing him every step of the way. As Jarrett peaks with intensity, Garbarek arches his back like a sun flare, a whip cracking silently through time-space in slow motion, giving us an aftertaste of the Norwegian reedman at his early best. During another rich bass solo, Jarrett plucks the strings inside his piano as if to defuse the epiphany. After this palpable spurt of energy, “The Journey Home” breathes a sigh of relief and provides the album’s most gorgeous turns from Jarrett. Fluid as his song, his voice basks in the sunshine. Not to be outdone, Garbarek matches this elegiac acuity, at last fading into brushed cymbals.

The music of Keith Jarrett was already highly sustainable long before the concept became an obligatory buzzword. With My Song he brings that personal ecology in fullest force. Garbarek hardly sounds better than he does alongside the discerning piano man, and is here soulful, restrained, consolatory but also insistent, and never afraid to let loose once in a while. These are musicians bound by trust, which they express with every pellucid turn of phrase they utter on an album that represents one of ECM’s most stunning dates of the seventies.

Enrico Rava: The Pilgrim And The Stars (1063)

 

Enrico Rava
The Pilgrim And The Stars

Enrico Rava trumpet
John Abercrombie guitar
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded June 1975 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In today’s wealth of commercially visible jazz trumpeters, one pines for vintage brass at the lips of musicians for whom “creativity” is more than just a brand. And while I’m the first to admit to having a soft spot for the likes of Chris Botti, there’s nothing like an Enrico Rava experience to wipe your slate of appreciation clean and start you on a fresh path. From the striking cover to the synergistic musicianship, Rava’s ECM debut is an album to return to time and again. Joined by a dream team of John Abercrombie on guitar, Palle Danielsson on bass, and Jon Christensen on drums, Rava reaches for the sky with this one, and succeeds.

The title track brings the album to life in raspy exhalation. This whisper turns into full-blown speech as Abercrombie takes the rhythmic wheel. He steers us into “Parks,” in which we find Rava at his most incisive. In a lively duet with acoustic guitar, he lays down a smooth melody filled with a nostalgia you never knew you had. This is a fantastic track, and one of Rava’s brightest moments. Next is “Bella,” which lays down a gentle groove before Rava flexes his lungs like wings, setting every note to flight. Christensen brings on the frenzy, to which Rava adds his own, yet with a delicacy that never leaves him. An intense guitar solo of soaring and piercing clarity follows. A rare whoop from Christensen knocks things up a rung or two, and a very present Danielsson cuts to the quick before ending on a glorious reinstatement of the theme from Rava. The lead melody of “Pesce Naufrago” coalesces out of the slow-motion big bangs that birth much of the band’s gravity. “Surprise Hotel” is a wilder affair, with energetic runs all around in a confined space. “By The Sea” offers wonderful reinforcement in the bass as Abercrombie circles overhead with distant cries. We end with “Blancasnow,” in which Rava floats his trumpet in the murky waters of his rhythm section. After a free and easy introduction, he pulls us toward even greater melodic destinations.

What’s amazing about these musicians in that they conduct so much creative electricity from such quiet musical circuits. Rava is, as per usual, variously a raging fire and a delicate flicker, straying as far from the wick as possible while remaining tethered by the thinnest of flames. The band is miked in a nice full spread, drums and trumpet at center, bass in the mid-right channel, and guitar anchored hard left. This leaves plenty of room for us to walk among them and enjoy the sounds as if they were our own.

Keith Jarrett: Belonging (ECM 1050)

Keith Jarrett
Belonging

Keith Jarrett piano
Jan Garbarek tenor and soprano saxophones
Palle Danielsson bass
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded April 24 and 25, 1974 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

From beginning to end we are treated to a mélange of moods in this, the first effort from Keith Jarrett and his European quartet. Compositionally astute and clearly the work of steadied hands, Belonging finds each musician in fine form. Whether it is Garbarek’s punctilious doubling in the buoyant “Spiral Dance,” Danielsson’s mellifluous bass solo in “Blossom,” or Christensen’s rollicking snare in “The Windup,” everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. Jarrett’s fingerwork is, of course, superb throughout, but it is the energy underlying his playing—the very spirit of his pianism—that really seems to drive things forward. The album is zigzagged, fading adeptly from head-shaking abandon to heavy darkness from one cut to the next. Ballads make up the longest passages on Belonging and seem to turn ever inward within the confines of their own emotional borders. For the most part, sax and piano are explicitly unified, as if trekking on either side of the same divide, although sometimes they seem to look in opposite directions, as if involved in a long-running debate, unsure of whether reconciliation can be had in the throes of so much dialogue. Jarrett’s jilted approach is well suited to these down-tempo moments while the bass gently asserts its tremulous presence in the background. Garbarek’s sudden entrances weave a dense stratosphere of brassy elegance. “’Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” is pure Jarrett and provides Garbarek with plenty of space to run amok with his screeching serenade. The title cut is another ballad, this one of a different shade than the rest; not an alleyway, but a brief lapse into self-pity. As the album’s center, it also encapsulates a core theme: this music evokes a past from which one cannot escape or, more positively, simply a sense of belonging as the title would imply, the inescapability of one’s roots in place and time. Overall, this is an essential example of what ECM can do when it throws a handful of singular talents into a studio.