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On occasion, Keith Jarrett's persona has overshadowed his creative contributions to music. Köln Concert (ECM, 1975) represented a defining benchmark for the legions who discovered jazz through it almost forty years ago. But while that seminal work was brilliant, it was not the virtuoso pianist best solo work. The live, spontaneously improvised Rio may not only be his personal best, but is also a flawless documentation of Jarrett's scope and understanding of composition and presentation. With fifteen compact pieces, the pianist has the opportunity to vary the program's styles to a greater extent than with some of his more epic-length solo works.
The opening "Part I" generates a sense that Rio is going down a somewhat familiar path of darker abstract intellectualism. That is not to say that the song is in any way unappealing; like all the pieces in this collection, it has an emotional undercurrent that makes it highly engaging. The mood alters significantly with "Part II," a soulful piece that is more generally representative of the tempo that dominates much of the concert. The collection is also sprinkled with bits of straight-ahead jazz, ballads and Latin influences, with "Part V" representing some of Jarrett's recognizable gospel influence.
It is not until midway through the second disc that Jarrett returns to a more atonal style on "Part X." As in the opener, Jarrett's approach to free improvisation is not inaccessible. An up-tempo blues theme returns this piece to clearly identifiable territory before it closes out. The compositions that follow and lead to Rio's conclusion incorporate influences of Jarrett's third stream, blues and sacred music repertoire. At his improvisational best, Jarrett has an intangible quality that defies description. His shape-shifting abilities and broad expanse of styles are only stylistic and technical references; it is Jarrett's exceptionality that gives his music its essence and soul.
Paris / London (Testament) (ECM, 2009) was Jarrett's return to solo form; Rio is conformation of his brilliance as a composer, improviser and musician. Jarrett has mastered the rare combination of innovation and pragmatism wherein simple and complex structures coexist and transcend the conventional. What is most evident in this collection is that Jarrett is enjoying the music more than in quite some time, and it energizes both him and the audience. Rio is a work of unsurpassed energy, beauty and creativity, and is Keith Jarrett's best solo work to date.
Track Listing: CD1: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI. CD2 : Part VII; Part VIII; Part IX; Part X; Part XI; Part XII; Part XIII; Part XIV; Part XV.