Witnessing anyone overcome adversity can be inspiring, but when someone with a profound talent becomes prematurely disabled, it becomes even more meaningful. When pianist Keith Jarrett was forced to cease touring due to an extended illness that afflicted him in the mid-'90s, fans wondered if he'd ever play again. The release of his '99 home recording, The Melody at Night, With You
while a welcome indication that he may have been down but certainly not outstill showed that he was only gradually returning to strength.
In the ensuing years since that solo effort, Jarrett has restricted his activities to his long-standing Standards Trio. Unsatisfied with previous attempts at returning to the kind of lengthy solo improvisations that produced significant works including The Köln Concerts
and Sun Bear Concerts
, it certainly appeared that Jarrett might not perform solo ever again.
The good news is that in '02 Jarrett decided to give it another go, with one change: rather than performing a continuous improvisation, he would build his solo concerts from "discrete pieces drawn from each previous piece. The result, Radiance
, is an evocative double-disc set that combines the entire performance from Osaka on 10/27/02 with four pieces from a concert in Tokyo a few days later. Any doubts about Jarrett's ability to sustain himself in the bare and exposed context of a completely improvised solo concert are laid to waste by the combination of powerful stream-of-consciousness thinking and remarkable spontaneous composition demonstrated throughout these nearly two-and-a-half hours of music.
Fans who pine for the old days of Jarrett the composer will be pleasantly surprised to find some of his pieces remarkably structured. One might even think, after listening to the delicate and hymnal "Part 3 and "Part 8, that Jarrett could take these pieces and build them into more developed works for his trio. And the fact that pieces of such beauty and form could be pulled from the ether makes them all the more compelling.
Elsewhere, Jarrett is more abstract, with pieces that seem to build tension, sometimes never resolving. And while the performance eschews any real direct ties to the jazz tradition for the most part, revealing equal connections to contemporary classical music, there are
some obvious ties, the ninety-second "Part 11 being a prime example with its remarkable bebop vibe.
What makes the entire set so rewarding is Jarrett's incredible sense of intuition. There may be breaks between the pieces, but they so obviously derive from each other that the Osaka concert takes on a larger arc, with the Tokyo pieces a fitting coda. Jarrett seems to know just when to shift from free, intense abstraction to gentle, almost pastoral beauty, and there are few artists today who can structure a solo concert with such a strong sense of narrative and unerring intent. Radiance
is not just a return to form; it's an instant classic of solo improvisation that is destined to rank highly among Jarrett's strongest work.
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