All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Keith Jarrett: Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986

By Published: September 5, 2008
Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette
Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986
ECM Records

It's been a big year for piano icon Keith Jarrett and his longstanding Standards Trio. First, in October, 2007, ECM released My Foolish Heart, a two-CD set documenting a particularly notable 2001 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, one that proved the trio is as relevant today as when first it emerged in 1983, out of a lengthy session responsible for three albums—Changes (1983), Standards, Vol. 1 (1984) and Standards, Vol. 2 (1985). The label continued with the trio's 25th anniversary celebration by releasing a three- CD set, grouping the entire January, 1983 session into one box, Setting Standards: New York Sessions (2008). Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986 brings back into print two concert performances from 1985 and '86—first released by VideoArts Music Inc. on VHS tape as Standards (1995) and Standards II (1995) and later on DVD.

Packaged with the same austere beauty as Tokyo Solo (ECM, 2006), it's an opportunity to see the trio, also featuring bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette—wind its way through nineteen standards and three Jarrett originals with the kind of imagination and interplay that has turned the concept of interpreting jazz standards and material from The Great American Songbook on its side. Rather than merely running down the changes and soloing over them, Jarrett's trio has turned playing standards into a rare form of spontaneous composition. Form and melody may be familiar, but the trio's ability to be both respectful and wholly open-minded (and open- ended) turns listening to and watching these two Tokyo performances into an ever-unpredictable pleasure.

l:r: Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock

While these two performances were captured around the time of the trio's early releases, only four songs from those albums are part of the set lists and, with the exception of the trio's outstanding, funky take of the Billie Holiday classic, "God Bless the Child," there's little reference to the studio versions heard on Setting Standards.

Most of the other songs can be found on albums ranging from Standards Live (ECM, 1986) to At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings (ECM, 1995). There are, however, eight tunes documented here for the first and only time. "Rider," a Jarrett original from the 1985 performance—like "God Bless the Child" and Hoagy Charmichael's "Georgia On My Mind," another previously undocumented standard from the 1986 show—references Jarrett's gospel leanings. The rarely covered "Delauney's Dilemma," written by the late Modern Jazz Quartet pianist-leader John Lewis, stands alongside more popular tunes, including an ambling version of Hague and Horwitt's "Young and Foolish," up-tempo looks at Young and Heyman's "Love Letters" and Rodgers and Hart's "With a Song in My Heart," and a most elegant reading of the classic "When You Wish Upon A Star" from Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

In these days prior to Jarrett's contracting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—a condition that would completely silence him in the late '90s for three years, returning only gradually to live performance over the past decade—seeing Jarrett was almost as arresting as hearing him. His loud vocalizations—grunts, whoops and hollers, and falsetto articulation of the lines he's playing—have become the stuff of controversy, but what's clear from watching him here is that it was and is a way to channel what he hears to what he plays, making a strong case for improvisation being an in-the-moment kind of composition. The link between spontaneous subconscious and more overt awareness can be seen as Jarrett both conceives and executes lengthy, sometimes serpentine melodic lines on the fly. It's also clear from the sheer physicality of the way he plays, that his immersion in the music is complete. It's rare to see a jazz pianist play while standing up, gyrating to the music and responding to his trio in visceral fashion, but for Jarrett, it's part of responding to the needs of the moment.

Peacock and DeJohnette are equals in the free-for-all, though as Jarrett wrote in Scattered Words (ECM, 2003), "someone has to drive." There's no question that Jarrett's being "the one with the chordal instrument" and the player with the "overwhelming experience of spontaneous composition" means that he often sets the rules of engagement, the tone of the song. But once he's introduced a piece with a solo intro, where it goes is anyone's guess. Jarrett's brief intro to Cole Porter's "All of You" could suggest a ballad or a faster-tempo take, but it's only when DeJohnette and Peacock enter that it takes full shape. Peacock rarely takes lengthy solos, but even the briefest of statements, as he takes here, is deep on tone and rich in substance, with Jarrett's reentry signifying a major leap in energy for the tune.

Keith Jarrett / Standards Trio / Jack DeJohnette

Whether it's delicate brushwork, swinging mightily or responding to Jarrett's gospel disposition with a loose backbeat, DeJohnette demonstrates that, despite the more mainstream veneer of this undeniably experimental music, there's nothing orthodox about how he or the rest of the trio approach the music. Hearing his locked-in groove with Peacock on "Rider" is not just one of the highlights of the set; it's demonstrative of the trio's ability to stretch out at length without ever overstaying its welcome. DeJohnette's brief solo is a perfect confluence of effortless mastery and reverence for the essence of the song.

That original, preconceived songs like "Rider" and the Americana-tinged "Prism"—a clear influence on pianist Bruce Hornsby—are no longer part of what the trio does is a shame. There's no denying the trio's approach to standards—where new structure is created each and every night—while completely free improv records like Always Let Me Go (ECM, 2002) pull plenty of form out of the ether. But the fact remains: Jarrett's writing for his 1970s European and American quartets has created some indisputable classics including "The Windup," "Belonging" and "My Song." The fiery "So Tender," which opened Standards, Vol. 2 and is heard in the 1985 performance in extended form with far greater energy, also makes clear that Jarrett has the ability to write compellingly for the mainstream, a strength he may be overly reluctant to exploit. It's less a criticism, since the trio performs at such a high level that it can make something out of virtually anything, than simply a pining for a time when Jarrett also believed in the concept of formal writing as an equal partner, or musical dovetail, to unfettered improvisation.

Keith Jarrett / Standards Trio / Gary Peacock

The DVDs have not been remastered, but the sound is in clear, clean and crisp PCM Stereo, while the multi- camera approach allows director Kaname Kawachi to provide views of the group both intimate and expansive. With each successive release Jarrett's Standards Trio assures that there's plenty of life left in a group a quarter of a century old. Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986 is a revealing window into a group just beginning its journey, but this double-DVD set, with over three hours of footage, also proves, along with the reissue of Setting Standards, that the trio's chemistry was near- instantaneous, and that the ensuing years have only cemented an already firm foundation.

Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano; Gary Peacock: double-bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.

Tracks: DVD1 (Standards I: Tokyo 1985): I Wish I Knew; If I Should Lose You; Late Lament; Rider; It's Easy To Remember; So Tender; Prism; Stella By Starlight; God Bless The Child; Delauney's Dilemma. DVD2 (Standards II: Tokyo 1986): You Don't Know What Love Is; With A Song In My Heart; When You Wish Upon A Star; All of You; Blame It On My Youth; Love Letters; Georgia On My Mind; You And The Night And The Music; When I Fall In Love; On Green Dolphin Street; Woody 'n' You; Young And Foolish.

Production Notes: NTSC Region 0; Color 4:3; PCM Stereo; Photo: Roberto Masotti; Design: Sascha Kleis. DVD1: 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; Concert produced by Koinuma Music; Running time: 105 minutes. DVD2: 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; Concert produced by Koinuma Music.

Photo Credit
Captured from Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986, courtesy of ECM Records and VideoArts Music

comments powered by Disqus