Few improvising musicians have managed to cover the ground that pianist Keith Jarrett has made his own over the last three decades. Those years span avant jazz, classical and neo-classical work, overdubbed solo mysticism, new age flaccidity, deft group improvisation, solo keyboard meditations, and a heap of recent standards interpretations.
Not to belabor the issue, but it's important to recognize the high points from Jarrett's work if you wish to make any sense of this, his 44th (!) record for ECM. So let's pause for a moment to recognize three groups he led to peaks of artistic expression. Jarrett's American Quartet (with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian) explored open, adventurous groundas did the European Quartet (with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson, and Jon Christensen). But nothing has come close to the recognition and popularity he has achieved with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette in his Standards Trio. The last two groups are documented brilliantly on Rarum, with 5 and 3 tunes apiece. These recordings alone make this set a keeper. (The American Quartet, apparently, did not deserve time.)
When Jarrett put together this collection for the Rarum series, he chose recordings from several periods throughout his career. And these two discs contain some of the most inspiring music of the 20th century. Of course, some of his efforts were entirely forgettable, so there's some chaff amongst the wheat. Five tracks from Spirits, a totally flat overdubbed solo record from '85, stand as a terrible exception to Jarrett's usual freshness and verve. But two relatively unfamiliar solo piano pieces from Dark Intervals, two years later, offer beautifully understated emotion. The featured fifteen minutes from each record make for an interesting contrast.
Outside Jarrett's famous groups (which deserve every ounce of fame they've received), his solo work has also been inspired. The remainder of this set features Jarrett playing solo. The Köln Concert (a major best-seller from the ECM catalog) is too sprawling to be featured here, but 18 minutes of improvised neoclassical clavichord work from Book of Ways start the first disc off quite nicely. Jarrett moves from there to piano and pipe organ and explores the sonorities of the different instruments. On disc two, he continues with organ, piano, and saxophone for some variation along his usual crystalline and articulate lines. With few exceptions, this retrospective flows smoothly and evenly despite chronological jumps and juxtaposition of styles. Jarrett remains idiosyncratic and enigmatic to this day, and perhaps it's that inability to be pinned down which has earned him his creative independence. If nothing else, Jarrett's statements are honest without exception. Some may be more clever or poignant than others, but they are all his own.
Luminaries: one and all. Surprise (or not): the one piece featured on both Jarrett and Garbarek collections, 1977's "My Song." These two players have had a near telepathic understanding, so it's not strange that they would agree on this fine tune.
(Note: this 2-CD set represents the first volume of :rarum, a series of artist-picked compilations from ECM Records. It comes with notes by the artist and extended discographical information.)
Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano, pipe organ, clavichord, soprano saxophone, flute, tabla, percussion; Jan Garbarek: ts and ss; Palle Danielsson: b; Jon Christensen: d, perc; Gary Peacock: b; Jack DeJohnette: d.