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Journey into Jazz

Transcendental Jazz: Does It Exist?

By Published: January 11, 2004
Then there is Keith Jarrett whose music, especially the more elaborate and rather introverted performances like some of the live concerts e.g. Cologne Concert, wherein he grunts, mumbles and seems to forget there exists an audience out there... all this points unequivocally in the direction that an inner force is struggling with the more self-conscious performing artiste (why else the groans?) who’s into a balancing act with an unpredictable backseat rider on a bicycle built for two. It would be presumptuous to say that the average listener can discern the ephemeral effects of two such forces belting out a single melody: like Ferrante and Teischer rolled into one, but the vital fact remains that at certain points in the celestial improvisations, the melody becomes so powerfully evocative of the Indian traditions that one fails to realize where the music slips from one category to another... that’s world music at its highest. Driven by the inner force: no wonder it has a global appeal. Jarrett sounds, unaided and unembellished by electronics and even other instruments, as an angel performing on the earth to many who have never heard him earlier—there’s this transcendental quality in his music which has to be experienced. Try his Spheres an album he recorded in an obscure German village with a 700 year old massive organ—and only the severely tone deaf can miss that celestial quality of transcendental music here. Jarrett reaches out and touches the stars routinely. George Winston, someone who hardly ever gets jazz billing, manages this sort of lyrical beauty in his piano playing too. What we are talking about is rather too diffuse, and for those readers who may be sharpening their axes to chop this piece to mincemeat, I would say whoa! Hold your horses, there’s more to come...

Rahsaan Roland Kirk who most unfortunately got labeled as a crazy circus artiste more and hardly ever like a serious jazz artiste who contributed solidly to the growth of free jazz, used to talk about such a transcendental effect, in fact many do even today. But that takes serious efforts. For the uninitiated, I would strongly recommend big dollops of my personal favorite Carla Marciano (who tells me she has been congratulated by John Coltrane’s cousin Mary for having recorded her tribute to the great Coltrane] whose music teeters on the transcendental, and often slips up into the other world effortlessly. There’s a natural charm in this game of hide and seek she plays with the terrestrial compulsions and the celestial forces. A most interesting display of fireworks, when she chooses to improvise on lines of John Coltrane, the Jazz Giant.

Cheers then, have a Great New Year... and do keep writing to me. I try to answer everyone.

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