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Keith Jarrett: The Impulse Years 1973-1974

Robert Spencer By

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Ecstatic moans will no doubt rise from fans of pianist Keith Jarrett's "American quartet" with Dewey Redman (tenor sax), Charlie Haden (bass) and Paul Motian (drums) over this 5-CD boxed set. Also on hand here and there for additional color are Sam Brown (guitar on "Treasure Island" and "Sister Fortune") and percussionists Guilherme Franco and Danny Johnson. The albums Fort Yawuh, Treasure Island, Death and the Flower and Backhand are included in their entirety, along with eight previously unreleased tracks and three tracks presented for the first time in complete versions.

In some ways this was a strange band. Redman and Haden had just come from long spells with Ornette Coleman, but Jarrett's music initially seems worlds away from the edgy adventurousness of Coleman's free-bop. That Redman and Haden only rarely sound here the way they did with Ornette is testimony to their musicianship and to Jarrett's focused artistic vision.

The program is exhaustive, but never exhausting. This is Jarrett between Miles Davis and the Sun Bear Concerts ; he was playing good-time music very much in a jazz idiom. By some accounts these chaps didn't get along famously, but they connected musically here in an impressive number of idioms. Jarrett boogies on two versions of "De Drums" and "Inflight." "Treasure Island" and "Sister Fortune" are downright pop-py. Now he swings, now he sobs. He swings notably on "Backhand," "Death and the Flower" and the Ornetteish "(If the) Misfits (Wear It)." Fans of his melancholy side can turn to tracks like "Prayer."

Here and there Jarrett gets up from the piano to play a little wood flute and some accomplished soprano saxophone, along with tambourines and various percussion exotica to anticipate his later dive (headlong but brief) into "world music." Africa and the Amazon jungle are his regions of choice. Sometimes this stuff sounds a little clichéd. Not all the time, by any means. On "Kuum," for example, that utterly strange sound you hear is Redman contributing the wild tenor growling that added so much to Ornette's underrated Blue Note sessions with John Coltrane's rhythm section, New York is Now and Love Call. Here, amid the percussion forest, it sounds like some wild animal calling, thrilling despite (or perhaps because of) its threat to life and limb. On soprano, Jarrett sounds more reedy and nasal than John Coltrane — obviously taking Trane's soprano-as-exotic-world-instrument idea one step further.

On "Kuum" Jarrett plays no piano at all. His piano playing is, of course, the highlight of this and virtually all his sets. It is very much in a jazz idiom, although his range is, again, impressive. The classical stuff is in the future, but Debussy peeks in here and there, as on Motian's "Victoria." Long tracks like "Fort Yawuh" and the tempo- shifting "Death and the Flower" give him the opportunity to demonstrate the brightness of his touch and how effortlessly he varies his attack. His mates, especially Haden, demonstrate particular acuity in the strength and suppleness of their support. Redman occasionally (on some of the folk numbers and "(If the) Misfits (Wear It)") contributes his tenor-sax-singing, but mostly he sounds more genial, relaxed and lyrical. More than once he contributes compelling ideas, only to drop away all too quickly; but this is, after all, the headliner's show.

Nobody can steal it, and nobody does (Some will think me remiss if I don't mention that his "singing" here is minimal and non-intrusive). "De Drums" and "Backhand," just to name two, are catchy and exhilarating. Haden is a monster throughout, and Motian is quick on the uptake. This set is as solid as any jazz being made in 1973 and 1974, and well worth picking up for Jarrett fans.


Title: The Impulse Years 1973-1974 | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Impulse!

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