With the release of Radiance (ECM, 2005), Keith Jarrett made a triumphant return to improvised solo piano performance. The 2002 recording was the first live solo piano performance to be released since La Scala (ECM, 1997), and it reflected a change in Jarrett's approach to solo improvisation. That change continues on The Carnegie Hall Concert, a complete show from the fall of 2005 that's less radical in some ways, but still has a few surprises.
With Radiance, Jarrett moved away from the longer stream-of-consciousness improvisations that characterized his earlier solo records. Instead, he now performs a discrete series of shorter improvisations, where each part is meant to suggest where the next one will go. The improvisations on Radiance did appear to have an inexorable, logical flow from one to the next. However, the ten improvisations that make up the main body of The Carnegie Hall Concert seem less directly connected.
That doesn't mean they aren't broadly evocative. Jarrett brings together diverse musical references, from the angular classicism of "Part 1" to the darker impressionistic beauty of "Part 3." The two-chord left-hand vamp of "Part 2" allows him to build more easily discernable improvisations with his right; his by now legendary vocalization of melodic ideas provides a clear window into the translation of concept to execution.
The performance feels darker and more abstract than Radiance, but there are still rays of light. "Part 7" is a gospel-tinged piece that separates and contrasts the jagged "Part 6" and hauntingly melancholic "Part 8." The more complex ideas of "Part 9" show just how big a picture Jarrett can conceive on the fly, while "Part 10" ends the main concert on an ambiguous note, around a minor-keyed pedal tone that gradually slows to a stop.
The surprise of the release is the encore. While the main show improvisations are untitled, Jarrett performs two new titled originals here: a romantic Americana piece appropriately called "The Good America" and a barrelhouse blues, "True Blues. Jarrett ends the encores with a calming look at the standard "Time on My Hands."
But the biggest surprise is hearing Jarrett perform his classic "My Song," the title track from his 1978 ECM album, and "Paint My Heart Red," a reworking of "Mon Coeur Est Rouge" from Concerts (ECM, 1982). This is the first time he's dug back into his own repertoire, and it's something he should do more often. Jarrett is a masterful improviser, but he's also a fine composer. While he's been less interested in overt composition for many years, he may be changing his mind, or at least so the encore suggests.
Curious, however, is the applause between tracksin some cases nearly three minutes long, adding up to nearly nineteen minutes in total. Exciting as it may have been to be there, the lengthy audience noise does nothing but defeat the recorded program's continuity.
As strong as the main concert is, the encores of The Carnegie Hall Concert are what differentiate it from previous Jarrett solo recordings. Hopefully it signifies a new direction that combines pure, unfettered improvisation, reference to past works and more clearly form-based composition.
Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano.