Birthdays are always special occasions. When one is young, the celebration is about looking towards the future. As one gets older, the occasion marks the acknowledgement of life's accomplishments. As for Slowly: Song For Keith Jarrett, the release of this title on May 7 2021 was one day before Jarrett's 76th birthday. As envisaged by pianist Noah Haidu along with his cohorts bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart the album's construct would be built around Jarrett's body of work following the announcement that he would be retiring from from the music scene due to personal health issues.
The repetoire offered for this session is not driven by an intent to replicate Jarrett's playing style, but rather to use compositions from the trio members, as well as Jarrett, and others from the the standard's songbook. These were meant to be looked at in the context of Jarrett's solo piano performances or his standards trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
Opening with Buster William's "Air Dancing," Haidu embraces the composition through the lens of lyricism. The trio works together in an ethereal mode each offering point and counterpoint as they search in a self-assured way to deliver on the essence of the number. The first of the pop standards is "What A Difference A Day Makes" for which Dinah Washington won a Grammy Award in 1959 for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance. Here it ticks along with easy-going grace as Haidu evidences a great touch, and Williams take a prolonged solo that is sonorous, warm and alert.
In a lengthy twofer track, Jarrett's own composition "Rainbow" is combined with a Haidu original " Song For Keith Jarrett." The former is offered in a waltz frame which is elegant and gracious and has some stellar bass work from Williams. The latter number dashes along with a rollicking vibe and Hart's propulsive drumming. A very clever musical juxtaposition. The other original composition by Haidu is the title track "Slowly." Delivered as a solo excursion, Haidu shows that he is a pianist who enjoys reason and invention, along with a meticulous relationship with the piano.
The remaining two standards are classics of the genre; Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia" and Jimmy Van Heusen's "But Beautiful." The attraction to jazz musicians of using popular material is several fold. Firstly, the melodies are readily identifiable. But more importantly, the melodies serve as a frame in which the artist changes the notes to create an entirely new musical persona. With "Georgia," Haidu takes the number at a melancholy pace with a bluesy focus, all of which seems to be in line with the longing that the tune conveys. For the final track, "But Beautiful," Haidu has decided that he favours the languid tempo that creates the mood and structure of the number. But it also gives bassist Williams a launch pad to make his bass musically heartfelt and evocative.
Keith Jarrett might not receive a nicer gift for his birthday.
Air Dancing; Duchess; What A Difference A Day Makes; Rainbow/Keith Jarrett; Georgia; Slowly; Lorca; But