Keith Jarrett Trio
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Verizon Hall
September 19, 2008
The universally acclaimed Keith Jarrett Trio returned for its third visit to the Kimmel Center as part of its "Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Tour" and to kick off the new season of Citibank-sponsored jazz events. I reviewed the Trio's last performance there
in April, 2004. The current performance was similar in that it featured a host of standards, but differed in its "flavor.".
The 2004 concert was a seriously disciplined show of virtuosity and sophistication. By contrast, the current set was more relaxed and informal and had the feeling of a club date or even at times a jam session. The group appeared even a bit dazed at times, and Jarrett's few remarks were light and humorous, providing welcome relief from his legendary barbed attacks and confrontations. There was more of a sense of the experimentation that often occurs when a jazz group does a late night set in a club. At times, they achieved the exhilaration and spontaneity that leads audiences to tap their toes and add excited "yelps" to their applause for solos. That added a sense of fun to the exceptional and creative exploration of the music that invariably characterizes this legendary group. As my friend, jazz pianist Tom Lawton, told me afterward, "It was a truly great concert. I especially dug the second half. Jarrett's one of the most versatile pianists in the jazz world. He was in top form, very ebullient and florid, with some introspective moments..."
What can a reviewer say about Keith Jarrett and this long-lived Trio that hasn't been said before? One can only repeat the encomiums, as from my last review: "Jarrett's virtues include his remarkable mastery of the piano and of music, along with his extraordinary ability to invent new lines, uncannily avoiding lapses and cliches. He has taken the art of improvisation to a level unheard of before him. And he is an excellent group leader. With Peacock and DeJohnette, he has fashioned a trio that is in itself an art form, an expression of the highest aspiration possible within the mainstream of contemporary small group jazz." Despite or because of the relaxed atmosphere, the group certainly lived up to its stellar reputation in this particular gig, ranging through the jazz repertoire with implicit references to their inspirations, such as Bill Evans and Chick Corea for Jarrett, Scott LaFaro and Paul Chambers for Peacock, and Elvin Jones for DeJohnette.
The concert started with a lovely and lively performance of "If I Were a Bell, I'd be Ringing," which Jarrett began with a long, slow solo intro that broke out into full swing with the trio. "Autumn Leaves" was executed with Jarrett's masterful interpretive skill on ballads, achieving great subtlety. A less-often played number, "Little Man You've Had a Busy Day," featured a masterful drum solo by DeJohnnette, which prefigured other brief and extended soloistic ventures by him throughout the evening. While in the previous concert, it was Jarrett who drove and guided the group, in this evening, DeJohnette seemed to be the propelling force. Peacock also soloed marvelously with his exquisite tone and nimble but accurate fingering. Next, the Pete LaRoca tune, "One for Majid" combined excitement and precision at a level that makes this group such a pleasure to hear. Coleman/McCarthy's "I'm Gonna Laugh You Out of My Life," a Nat King Cole favorite, was done in a dark, bluesy way and concluded the first part of the concert.
The intermission was followed by Sinatra's early-favored "I'm a Fool to Want You," done surprisingly with a hard-rock Latin rhythm reminiscent of Chick Corea. At this point, one palpably felt the group relaxing, developing that "nightclub jam" feeling, with much spontaneity and creative mobility. With Jarrett's heavily repetitive and tight chordal structure, the energetics of Herbie Hancock came into play as well. This was followed by another nuanced ballad, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," with fine extended solos by Jarrett and Peacock.
Then "something happened," the sort of thing that makes a concert unforgettable. The group proceeded into the musical stratosphere with a stunning rendition of Monk's "Straight No Chaser." Jarrett elaborated on Monk's off-center syncopation and twists of phrasing with sophisticated rhythms and dissonances drawn from Stravinsky and other modern influences. It was pure Jarrett, yet came across like a transformation of Stravinksy's "Petrouchka." Then DeJohnette did a solo that was totally out on a limb and even took the group's leader by surprise. Jarrett personally applauded the drummer afterward, and said, "I've been working with you for 25 years, and never heard that
before!!" DeJohnette went a step beyond Elvin Jones' standard of transforming the drums into a unified instrument, taking full advantage of the various timbres of cymbals, drums, and accessories. In this memorable solo, DeJohnette achieved a new level of musicality for a jazz drummer. It was almost as if he were singing with the drums. He himself appeared high on it, and the audience was thrilled. This was the kind of creative experience that appears to be given to the musician by a source well beyond his conscious ego. The set concluded with John Lewis' "Django."
The audience response insisted that the group come out for encore after encore, and they obliged with comfortable renditions of "Some Day My Prince Will Come," "When I Fall in Love," and Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child," concluding with a lively C minor jam.
An added feature of any Keith Jarrett concert is "Jarrett-watching." Conversations invariably turn to his behavior and words on stage. I have wondered at times whether Jarrett is a perfectionist who can't help himself, or whether he's found a canny way to garner attention. In this particular concert, he appeared to be in a more light-hearted mood than usual, and he refrained from the critical remarks that are his trademark. Paradoxically, however, he had the piano placed in the way that Miles Davis sometimes performed, with his back to the audience, although in Jarrett's instance it may have been because he wanted the sounding board to project towards Peacock and DeJohnette. In some of his remarks, he implied that he is intent on reaching and pleasing his audience, in contrast to his usual iconoclastic persona. In his self-authored liner notes for My Foolish Heart
(ECM, 2007), he also intimated a strong interest in winning over the audience. Well, on this occasion he and his group certainly achieved that objective.
Personnel: Keith Jarrett: piano; Gary Peacock: double-bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums.