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Keith Jarrett Trio: Tokyo '96

Christopher Hoard By

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If you're not yet familiar with the trio dynamics and musical history bestowed on the planet by Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJonette, and Gary Peacock, you probably: a) have zero interest in piano jazz b) remain unenlightened about the beauty jazz can attain as an art form c) like the music but find it difficult to get past spontaneous vocalizations from the pianist, d) are missing out big time, or e) all of the above. Known to many traditional jazz enthusiasts as "the world's greatest trio's", this is their first release in three years, following the epic, five-CD Blue Note set released in '96. In terms of the larger concert hall venue and the piano employed, the overall sound of "Tokyo '96" in terms Jarrett's piano is far superior to the Blue Note sets, not to discourage one from mining the deep assortment of pieces rendered there.

From the opening notes of "It Could Happen To You" through a minimally embellished version of "Mona Lisa," Jarrett and his stalwarts lead us through an imaginative waltz though the jazz canon's memory lane, swirling us through life's whole range of joyous and regretful emotions. The hard bob and blues motifs find new torrents of expression, and in Bud Powell's "John's Abbey," and a revisited "Billie's Bounce," Jarrett's melodic agility takes on the characteristics of a swinging, precipitous roller coaster ride - all the listener needs to do is, well... hang on. Jarrett will take care of the screaming for us, of course (that's a bit unfair, the vocalizations herein largely avoid being intrusive). We're offered a wondrous assortment of some standards Jarrett has previously recorded, such as "My Funny Valentine," and "Autumn Leaves," yet the trio serves up a new batch of gems like "Summer Night," and "Last Night While We Were Young." Given a few spins its clear Tokyo '96 ranks easily with some of my other favorites by this most hallowed of trios, most notably The Cure, Tribute, and Standards Live.

One need look no further to find a trio in perfect balance. Jack DeJonette's drumming ranges from the orchestral in its expressiveness to the subtlest underpinnings imaginable gracing Jarrett's delicate balladry. Peacock, always a master and virtuoso of his instrument, constantly unveils a stream of ideas and melodies as a soloist. If the term "genius" applies to any musician living in our time, one becomes challenged to think of any musician who gives more to the music than Keith Jarrett, both in terms of emotional depth and unbridled virtuosity.

In Tokyo '96, this trio serves up many familiar variations on past themes, with a healthy assortment of surprising, twisted phrasings and spontaneous vignettes. As to be expected it's a state-of-the-art tour de force in musical accomplishment, and writing about it seems merely a futile exercise in running out of superlatives. The music here is so startlingly pure in its conception, it sadly harkens to the fact that with few exceptions, little remains today in jazz which attains the force and beauty of those original standards, those moods and statements we find Jarrett continually resurrecting in a new hues and phrasings. Sadly it seems, Jarrett may be last in a line of this centuries greatest musical impressarios. If you open up to the music revealed on this recording, it indeed seems improbable that any of a younger generation of jazz musicians will even attempt to live up to the standard this group realizes for meeting up with music and an audience in a room. I sincerely hope I'm wrong here. But don't let my lapse into melancholy dissuade you from venturing a listen here... as some of my musician friends would put it—this one absolutely reams, baby!


Title: Tokyo '96 | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: RCA


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