Keith Jarrett Standards Trio in Ann Arbor
Back in 1983 when Keith Jarrett made the decision to explore the rich tradition of contemporary standards with musical buddies Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, such reevaluation had become almost mundane in the hands of those with lesser talent. Now almost 20 years later, it’s evident that Jarrett lead the way with an approach that emphasized the transformation of the material via the artist’s own voice and vision. The trio of Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette has become almost iconic in its ability to breath new life into old chestnuts and now that Jarrett’s schedule has become leaner due to his bout with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it seems that every note the trio plays takes on a grander significance.
One of only five shows scheduled for this fall, the Ann Arbor performance of the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio was a propitious and historic occasion. Staged at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium, an almost capacity crowd gathered for what proved to be a generous and rewarding evening of jazz at its best. Built in 1913, Hill’s 4,163-seat capacity is spread over a spacious mezzanine floor and an upper balcony. Acoustics are simply exquisite and the modest amplification and sound mixing came together to compliment what was as an absolutely flawless presentation.
To a massive swell of cheers and clapping, Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette took to the stage for the opening “’Round Midnight.” Reflective and calm, the trio chose to build the intensity slowly. Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me” turned things up just a notch, with DeJohnette’s swing developing along highly resolute musical lines. A ballad performance of “Only the Lonely” provided the midpoint fireworks. If suggesting that “fireworks” can be associated with a ballad seems like almost an oxymoron, consider that even at a slow tempo Jarrett plays with such ardor and intensity that the final result is nothing short of exhilarating. “Autumn Leaves,” taken at a nice clip, provided the first set’s conclusion. Jarrett proved to be effusive once again on a lengthy solo that unfolded with great logic. Peacock’s own walking solo was a heated one to be followed by a lengthy two-chord vamp from Jarrett. This then allowed DeJohnette some space to himself, tapping rims and hitting the bells of his cymbals in a way that made texture seem as important as the rhythmic elements at the core of his solo.
The first set clocked in at about an hour before finding the threesome leaving the stage for intermission. About half an hour later the trio returned for an even lengthier set that would go on to included two encores. What makes Jarrett such a master is his ability to speak in any number of stylistic voices (classical, jazz, stride, etc.) while retaining his own individualism. This was ever so apparent on the opening “Basin Street Blues,” with Jarrett in his best stride mode. The dynamics between loud and soft passages were utilized to great effect here, with the trio managing to shift from a whisper to a loud roar simultaneously and flawlessly. “Now’s the Time” then provided another taste of be-bop before giving way to “Chandra,” a lush ballad that was punctuated ever so succulently by DeJohnette’s hi-hat splashes and use of drumsticks on the flat edge of the cymbals. A very lengthy “Green Dolphin Street” was up next and Jarrett really outdid himself in a flashy solo spot that pulled out all the stops. Jagged lines intersected with brash punctuations, all the while building in intensity. Trading fours with Jack, Keith brought things to a rousing conclusion that in turn brought the audience to their feet.
Two encores were the result of this groundswell of support, a glowing rendition of “When I Fall in Love” and then a clever turn at “Poinciana,” with Jack providing the rumba a la Vernel Fournier to compliment Keith’s minimalist take on Ahmad Jamal (it’s interesting to note that on Jarrett’s new ECM release the same two cuts constitute the end of the concert but in different order). Another standing ovation and round of cheer brought the transcendent evening to its close. Throughout, it was apparent that Jarrett has lost none of his powers and we can only hope that the trio continues to wield its magical authority for many more years to come.