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Keith Jarrett: Keith Jarrett: Creation

John Kelman By

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It's been four years since pianist Keith Jarrett—an ECM recording artist since the early '70s—last released a solo piano recording, 2011's Rio. While its more consistently buoyant, optimistic nature reflected similar changes in Jarrett's life, it was not a recording that, for example, ranked as highly as Concerts: Bregenz / Munich —issued, in 2013, in its entirety for the first time on CD since its original 1982 vinyl release.

While Jarrett's well-documented encounter with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the mid-to- late '90s put a halt to the pianist's legendary ability to deliver uninterrupted performances of Herculean strength and length—performances documented on albums like his still- popular Köln Concert from 1975—he began, since returning to solo piano performance, delivering solo sets consisting of shorter pieces rather than one long, uninterrupted drawing of form from the ether. Still, despite some fans pining for the days of releases like the massive Sun Bear Concerts (1978) box—which documented five performances in Japan from 1976, some of his post-CFS recordings absolutely stand alongside his '70s work, an example being 2009's Testament -Paris / London.

And so, with Jarrett turning 70 this year, he is releasing two albums: one, a New Series classical recording of piano concertos by Béla Bartók and Samuel Barber (along with a short encore from an undated Tokyo solo show); the other, a solo piano recording but, in the decades since the pianist stopped recording most solo and group recordings in the studio, a live recording like no other in his discography. The aptly titled Creation is nine improvised pieces culled from six different performances in four cities and five halls, and what's most remarkable about this recording is that it feels like a pre-CFS solo performance; absolutely uninterrupted it is not— there are occasional brief moments of silence between the pieces, simply titled "Part I" through "Part IX" (though each piece also indicates where and when it was recorded)— but what Jarrett has done is to find improvisations that feel as if they are coming from a similar mindset—a similar musical headspace—and sequence them such that they give the impression of a single, contiguous 73-minute performance.

And it is Jarrett who is responsible; unlike most ECM recordings, which are sequenced by label head/primary producer Manfred Eicher, Creation was, indeed, sequenced by the pianist, who assumes the title of Producer this time around, with Eicher listed as Executive Producer. This concept of drawing on multiple performances to create a new whole is a fresh venture for Jarrett, and one that has raised some questions—doubts, even. But for those looking forward to this recording, it's not likely they'll be disappointed; for those who have, curiously, written it off on principle before even hearing it? They may well find themselves more than pleasantly surprised.

In recent years, Jarrett's solo performances, despite always starting with a blank slate, have become a tad predictable: there's always a handful of jagged improvisations more akin to a contemporary classical music than anything resembling the jazz tradition; a sampling of something that either hints at or more strongly reflects Jarrett's love of gospel and Americana; and invariably pieces that, coming from the blues, feel more overtly jazz-like. And mixed up within these various improvisations there's always a combination of sparse playing that makes silence a most important musical partner, along with exhilarating bursts of the virtuosity—both qualities (and knowing precisely when to use them) responsible for making Jarrett one of the most important pianists of the last half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first.

With Creation, however, Jarrett eschews all such predictable constructs with a program that's largely dark and brooding, heavily based on chordal constructs and sparse melodies, and the absolute antithesis of overt virtuosity...even though only a pianist with the kind of exceptional mastery of his instrument as Jarrett could create a suite such as this—a suite, impeccably mastered, where the dynamics range from the softest pianissimo to the most dramatic fortissimo. There are brief moments where Jarrett lets his virtuosity shines through, such as the beginning of "Part V," but it's only for a brief moment as the pianist settles into one of the album's most poignant, lyrical passages.

It's moments such as these—moments of unerring beauty, where Jarrett proves capable still of drawing song form from nowhere—that ought to make even the most jaded Jarrett fan realize that, with Creation, his best years are far from behind him— recorded, as these five performances were, within the past 12 months. He may no longer be capable of creating the kind of long-form performances that he used to in real time, but with the seamless narrative of Creation, perhaps there is value in the artifice of the studio, where an artist can examine hour upon hour of live performance and choose pieces that go together, hand-in-glove, to create their own bold, brooding, beautiful and absolutely harmonious whole.

Track Listing: Part I (Toronto, Roy Thomson Hall, June 25, 2014); Part II (Tokyo, Kioi Hall, May 9, 2014); Part III (Paris, Salle Pleyei, July 4, 2014); Part IV (Rome, Auditorium Parco della Musica, July 11, 2014); Part V (Tokyo, Kioi Hall, May 9, 2014); Part VI (Tokyo, Orchard Hall, May 6, 2014); Part VII (Rome, Auditorium Parco della Musica, July 11, 2014); Part VIII (Rome, Auditorium Parco della Musica, July 11, 2014); Part IX (Tokyo, Orchard Hall, April 30, 2014).

Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano.

Title: Keith Jarrett: Creation | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records

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