From the first groan emitted by pianist Keith Jarrett on "Meaning Of The Blues," from Standards, Vol. 1
(ECM, 1985), to the last seconds of the ending cadence of "Prism," from Changes
(ECM, 1984) and everything in between, the music and playing on Setting Standards: New York Sessions
a three-CD box that collects these two titles along with Standards, Vol. 2
(ECM, 1985)signals its unique place in jazz history.
The music is timeless, not only because the first two records are made up of standards, meaning those tunes that have entered the pantheon of miniature works of art, but that the trio of Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette has achieved a true melding of musical minds. Every note is pregnant with meaning, every phrase dynamically moves forward and every impulse from one is answered and followed instantly by the others.
In the end, it matters not what Jarrett's impulse was to ask Peacock and DeJohnette to come together and record standards in 1983. What does matter is that Jarrett, and by extension the entire trio, took these unique tunes seriously for the gems that they are.
For a tune from any era to capture the essence of a specific emotion and enter the collective unconscious of the public, while providing jazz players the ability to improvise, requires a combination of melody and harmony in perfect balance. True improvisers know that these tunes have an impregnable kernel that allows them to work their magic any way they wish precisely because that which identifies the tune is never far away. They know that the listener is secure in the tune's structure and hence can revel in any chances taken. A great tune unites performer and audience with a very strong bond.
Jarrett's playing is as intense as any solo performance. Every note connects with the next, making every phrase sounds newly discovered, evoking joy (and yes, the vocalisms) at their creation. There is ample reason to believe that the inventiveness heard on these tracks comes from the very chains of melody and harmony in which Jarrett is bound. Having rules and boundaries allows a sense of relaxation to permeate the mind, which can then find almost limitless variety within those very walls.
Following Jarrett's every twist and turn are Peacock and DeJohnette, making this a true three-voice trio. Peacock is magnificent, balancing the role of harmonic and rhythmic anchor with that of providing a melodic counterpoint to Jarrett, as well as impassioned soloing. DeJohnette plays with understated power and subtle emphasis, always pushing the music forward without rushing it.
Changes is dominated by the two-part "Flying" which is flat-out exciting and brings goose bumps as the trio burns, proving that a great tune is not necessary to make great music.
This triptych, collecting all the music recorded at this historic session, represents a very special three-CD box set, and much thanks goes to Manfred Eicher for this reissue on its twenty-fifth anniversary.
Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano; Gary Peacock: double-bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.