For nearly twenty years now, Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio has pursued the straight and narrow (albeit with exceptional grace and skill). To be honest, this trio has mined jazz standards for all they're worth. At risk of becoming predictable (though cleverly so), Jarrett and companions finally break through on Inside Out. It has long been obvious to this observer that the level of interaction among these three players borders on inhuman intuition; and that's the key to making free improvisation work. Inside Out takes Jarrett back to his early American Quartet days, with a welcome degree of unpredictability that makes every moment of these improvisations more exciting. This is a landmark work which bears careful inspection and repeated listening.
Recorded over two nights in concert at London's Royal Festival Hall in July, 2000, the 78 minutes on Inside Out barely fit on the disc. (Two forgivable fades in the performances make this possible.) From the first few phrases, the opener portends unpredictability and excitement. Jarrett develops a short motif anchored in one key, then immediately modulates the theme as soon as bassist Gary Peacock steps in... as if saying, "Hit this curve ball!" The trio proceeds through uncharted territory that ends up swirling in dark mystery, with briefly stated piano lines accompanied by Peacock's insistent pursuasion and DeJohnette's understated work on the toms. (Unfortunately, due to the demands of recording live performance, much of the deep bass is lost on this disc. Not a huge problem, but one to note. Same for Jarrett's usual emotional vocalizations.) The time-honored spiritual appears from time to time, as do the deepest foundations of the blues. So these players are not just pulling notes from thin air, but instead surrounding and infusing their explorations with elements from the tradition.
Each of these players has a wealth of experience playing "out." In fact, it's a reunion of sorts for them to approach the music from such a fresh and dynamic angle. Certain facets of the performance bear similarities to the work of the recent past: Jarrett's careful phrasing, with unremitting emphasis on the melody; Peacock's often contrary, rhythmically complex work on the notes below; and DeJohnette's sense of forward motion and impeccable attention to context. As the record ends, a favorite standard ("When I Fall In Love") rears its head, if only for a brief seven minutes... and the crowd (which most likely came to hear this material and not the free improvisation that dominates), instantly erupts in applause. My cheers go to the adventurism of the trio's new approach, and the final words of Jarrett's liner notes: "We will be releasing more of this kind of thing in the near future." Let's hope so. Stay tuned.
Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano; Gary Peacock: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.