Keith Jarrett: Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986

John Kelman By

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Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette
Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986
ECM Records

It's been a big year for piano icon Keith Jarrett and his longstanding Standards Trio. First, in October, 2007, ECM released My Foolish Heart, a two-CD set documenting a particularly notable 2001 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, one that proved the trio is as relevant today as when first it emerged in 1983, out of a lengthy session responsible for three albums—Changes (1983), Standards, Vol. 1 (1984) and Standards, Vol. 2 (1985). The label continued with the trio's 25th anniversary celebration by releasing a three- CD set, grouping the entire January, 1983 session into one box, Setting Standards: New York Sessions (2008). Standards I/II: Tokyo 1985 and 1986 brings back into print two concert performances from 1985 and '86—first released by VideoArts Music Inc. on VHS tape as Standards (1995) and Standards II (1995) and later on DVD.

Packaged with the same austere beauty as Tokyo Solo (ECM, 2006), it's an opportunity to see the trio, also featuring bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette—wind its way through nineteen standards and three Jarrett originals with the kind of imagination and interplay that has turned the concept of interpreting jazz standards and material from The Great American Songbook on its side. Rather than merely running down the changes and soloing over them, Jarrett's trio has turned playing standards into a rare form of spontaneous composition. Form and melody may be familiar, but the trio's ability to be both respectful and wholly open-minded (and open- ended) turns listening to and watching these two Tokyo performances into an ever-unpredictable pleasure.

l:r: Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock

While these two performances were captured around the time of the trio's early releases, only four songs from those albums are part of the set lists and, with the exception of the trio's outstanding, funky take of the Billie Holiday classic, "God Bless the Child," there's little reference to the studio versions heard on Setting Standards.

Most of the other songs can be found on albums ranging from Standards Live (ECM, 1986) to At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings (ECM, 1995). There are, however, eight tunes documented here for the first and only time. "Rider," a Jarrett original from the 1985 performance—like "God Bless the Child" and Hoagy Charmichael's "Georgia On My Mind," another previously undocumented standard from the 1986 show—references Jarrett's gospel leanings. The rarely covered "Delauney's Dilemma," written by the late Modern Jazz Quartet pianist-leader John Lewis, stands alongside more popular tunes, including an ambling version of Hague and Horwitt's "Young and Foolish," up-tempo looks at Young and Heyman's "Love Letters" and Rodgers and Hart's "With a Song in My Heart," and a most elegant reading of the classic "When You Wish Upon A Star" from Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

In these days prior to Jarrett's contracting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—a condition that would completely silence him in the late '90s for three years, returning only gradually to live performance over the past decade—seeing Jarrett was almost as arresting as hearing him. His loud vocalizations—grunts, whoops and hollers, and falsetto articulation of the lines he's playing—have become the stuff of controversy, but what's clear from watching him here is that it was and is a way to channel what he hears to what he plays, making a strong case for improvisation being an in-the-moment kind of composition. The link between spontaneous subconscious and more overt awareness can be seen as Jarrett both conceives and executes lengthy, sometimes serpentine melodic lines on the fly. It's also clear from the sheer physicality of the way he plays, that his immersion in the music is complete. It's rare to see a jazz pianist play while standing up, gyrating to the music and responding to his trio in visceral fashion, but for Jarrett, it's part of responding to the needs of the moment.

Peacock and DeJohnette are equals in the free-for-all, though as Jarrett wrote in Scattered Words (ECM, 2003), "someone has to drive." There's no question that Jarrett's being "the one with the chordal instrument" and the player with the "overwhelming experience of spontaneous composition" means that he often sets the rules of engagement, the tone of the song. But once he's introduced a piece with a solo intro, where it goes is anyone's guess. Jarrett's brief intro to Cole Porter's "All of You" could suggest a ballad or a faster-tempo take, but it's only when DeJohnette and Peacock enter that it takes full shape. Peacock rarely takes lengthy solos, but even the briefest of statements, as he takes here, is deep on tone and rich in substance, with Jarrett's reentry signifying a major leap in energy for the tune.

Keith Jarrett / Standards Trio / Jack DeJohnette

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