Jarrett à Juan

Last night was as the French would say, un moment fort. A strong moment – hearing Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack deJohnette play together under the pines at Juan-les-Pins on the Côte d’Azur. It was a 6 hour round-trip from Montpellier, (of which more in a separate post), and worth every minute. Here’s a long post about it.

The Keith Jarrett Trio‘s been together for 26 years, and has played Juan-les-Pins for for ten consecutive years. You’d forgive the guys if they treated their annual French appearance as a cushy retirement gig. But on the basis of what I heard in July 18th, 2009, these greying musicians are really, really still on the top of their game.

The setting at Juan is extravagantly romantic: an open-air stage with the Mediterranean as the backdrop, the audience gathered under stone pines as cicadas chirp into the evening and the hills behind Cannes fade to purple.

But this is France, and nothing is totally perfect. In my section, the arrival of the trio onstage was spoiled by a brief, sharp argument between a man and a woman as to whether she was allowed to smoke during the concert. But the crowd settled and Jarrett’s opening cantata eventually threaded into On Green Dolphin Street.

The first few numbers were stretching exercises, three musicians slowly reconnecting. Critical mass was acheived three songs in, as they teased Johnny Mercer’s I Thought About You to a slow-burning climax. Keith’s phrasing on the second four of the head (the “I thought about you” lyric) was witty, held back an extra millisecond just like Miles used to do in the 60s. The guys were smiling – you could tell they were enjoying themselves, and this song was possibly the musical highlight of the evening.

Seeing these musicians on stage somehow makes you hear new and different aspects of their music. In the flesh, Keith Jarrett’s debt to Ahmad Jamal and Bud Powell is more blatantly obvious than on the ECM albums.

These days, Gary Peacock looks for all the world like a gangly grandfather from Florida, in sweatpants. On record he sounds fluid, almost ethereal, and yet live on stage his phrases are as metrical as a Bach fugue.

Heard live, you realise Jack deJohnette is not a kit drummer – he’s a guy whose central business is, simply, to play his snare drum. The other items on stage with him are placed there to make Jack’s snare drum sound even better.

The second half was full of references to the Trio’s past, including Clifford Brown’s Sandu – recorded on the Trio’s 1999 Paris album. It started at medium-up, propelled by Jarrett’s rollicking blues chops, before Gary and Jack curbed Keith’s enthusiasm and pulled it back to a stately hard-swinging medium: proof that even masters can disagree on tempo, and they can make flawless mid-course corrections.

Later on, a balladic outro melded into a 10-minute long ostinato groove, like a gamelan cycle on a single chord. Jarrett’s insistent pentatonic runs recalled the best of his Köln Concert-era solo work. It seemed clear that this passage of play was a completely unplanned part of the concert, and the grins on stage confirmed it.

After a cleverly-disguised version of Round Midnight (Monk’s music always appears in the Trio’s concerts, noblesse oblige), the show was over. But the crowd was having none of it, calling the group back for THREE (count’em) encores.

First up, Butch and Butch was a twisty bebop showpiece for Jack’s drumming. More standing ovations brought the guys back for When I Fall in Love (sort of the Trio’s theme song), and it seemed that the tender ballad was meant to lull the audience into heading home quietly while contemplating the play of lights on the waterfront.

But the crowd wasn’t leaving. Keith, Gary and Jack re-emerged and re-ignited the stage with a long, gospel funk version of God Bless this Child. Everything came together. The swaying groove revived the ghosts of Jarrett’s 1970’s American Quartet with Gary digging deep into the pocket. Jack’s snare and hi-hat summoned memories of the lines he laid down exactly 40 years ago on Bitches Brew, just a couple of weeks after Aldrin and Armstrong came back to Earth.

If this wasn’t the best concert I’ve ever heard, it was close. For these musicians, age does not seem to weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun on the Mediterranean coast, even the cicadas in the pine trees shut up and listen.

(Musician images taken at soundcheck at Juan-Les-Pins in 2008 by Guillaume Laurent. Creative Commons license.)

Three-Way Dialogue

This is about as good as it gets – Keith Jarrett (pn), Charlie Haden (b) and Paul Motian (d) live in Hamburg in 1972. It’s an object lesson in how musicians should interact: an economy of ideas with no raised voices. Texture in tranquility.

Rhodes, Wrapped

Donald Byrd – Perpetual Love
From Kofi : Blue Note [Buy]

Normally, emotional attachment to physical possessions is best avoided. Except affection for teddy bears and music collections. But there was a twinge of regret today as I wrapped up my Fender Rhodes Mk 1 Stage 73 to be shipped to its new owner. A Rhodes is a heavy awkward object to transport, and with the amount of travelling coming up in the next 12 months, keeping it really wasn’t a practical option. So I sold it.

Indeed, in a 21st century of brilliant Korgs with stunning digital sound patches, there is virtually nothing practical about owning a Rhodes. It’s like owning a pet. Rhodes are temperamental beasts, requiring re-tuning and a little tender loving care now and again. They’re a bitch to take to gigs, and there’s always one note that sounds just a little bit broken. (With mine, it was the middle C#)

But a Rhodes will always look great in the lounge, and SOUND even greater- like licking meltwater from a velvet glacier while fanned by the wings of angels.

So much of the music I love was performed on a Rhodes. While I was packing it up today, in between berating myself for my stupidity, I tried to think of my personal favourite Rhodes jazz performances – which are less about improvisational brilliance than simply how the keyboard sounds. Here’s a list of three:

– Keith Jarrett’s 1971 “broken key” solo on Funky Tonk (Miles Davis Live-Evil)
– Herbie Hancock’s live version of Butterfly in Japan, 1975 (Flood: Live in Tokyo)
– Duke Pearson’s playing on Perpetual Love in 1970 (Donald Byrd Kofi)

I’ve shared Perpetual Love because it’s probably less well-known, although the players on the session are top notch: Donald Byrd (tp), Frank Foster (ts), Duke Pearson (Rhodes), Wally Richardson (g), Ron Carter (b), Mickey Roker (d), Airto and Dom Um Ramao (perc).


Pastel Morning


Keith Jarrett – Pastel Morning

From Ruta and Daitya: ECM 1021 [Buy]

Occasionally nature does something really neat, like sunrise yesterday morning. Given that English weather is scientifically proven to be crap 98% of the time, it seemed worth grabbing the camera to capture the moment.

The good soundtrack for these photos might be Pastel Morning, an intriguing piece by Keith Jarrett off the early ECM release Ruta and Daitya. Soon after this recording Jarrett, threw all his electronic toys out of his crib and embraced acoustic instrumentation forever. But Jarrett’s performances in electronic settings make you wonder what he could have produced if he hadn’t unplugged himself…

(OK, maybe he wouldn’t have recorded The Survivors’ Suite, in which case it was a very good thing Jarrett quit the electricity habit).

(NB. These photos don’t work very well on a black and white computer.)



Keith Jarrett: American Quartet Part IV

In the spring of 1976, the quartet toured Europe, and recorded the extraordinary The Survivors’ Suite in Ludwigsburg in April. (Believe me, you need this disc in your life.)

Travelling south to Austria in May, the quartet’s gig at the Theater am Kornmarkt in Bregenz was recorded and released in 1979 as Eyes of the Heart. The 3-part encore from that show sums up many different facets of the band, and serves as a fitting coda to this series.

Keith Jarrett described what it was like to play in this band in the liner notes to the record:

“Music is at its best when it carries you along at a level deeper than the music itself and forces you to live in its spaces as well as its notes.

“Improvisation is at its best when everyone involved in the music is aware of an intect greater then his own; therefore more his own.”

Keith Jarrett – Encore (a-b-c) – 18mins
From Eyes of the Heart: ECM 1150 [Buy]

Despite the strength of the music, it was clear by 1976 that differences in lifestyle and philosophy were driving the band apart. Following a final 3 day recording session New York in October of the same year, Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet ceased to be.

Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett: American Quartet Part III

One of the most remarkable aspects of Jarrett’s American Quartet was the obvious breadth of their influences and capabilities. And while free jazz was a strong suit in their arsenal, there were other moments when this band was downright FUNKY.

Rhythm and blues, rock and gospel run wild across many of the Quartet’s recordings, as exemplified by this pair of tunes. Guitarist Sam Brown plays on Take Me Back, as part of the quartet’s only release on Columbia.

Keith Jarrett – Take Me Back*
From Expectations: Columbia KG 31580 [Buy]

Keith Jarrett – Le Mistral
From The Impulse Years 1973-1974: Impulse! IMPD5-237 [Buy]

Paul Motian

Worth a Visit: a comprehensive review of Bill Evan’s versions of Stella by Starlight over at Xanax Taxi.

*Take Me Back is converted from an original copy on vinyl. I apologise for any moments substandard sound.

Keith Jarrett: American Quartet Part II

FREEDOM ! Or something close to it. Here are a couple of examples of the American Quartet heading towards their most liberal interpretations of melody and rhythm.

Piece for Ornette is an overt appropriation of Ornette Coleman’s compositional style from the early 1960s. It is surely no coincidence that this band contains former Coleman sidemen Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden. We hear Keith Jarrett on soprano saxophone, with nary a piano within earshot.

Beaming in from somewhere else entirely is Redman’s composition Pyramids Moving. It was recorded on the final day that the quartet worked together – October 16th, 1976, and released on the Impulse! album Bop-Be. Mr Redman plays chinese musette (illustrated below) instead of saxophone.

Keith Jarrett – Piece for Ornette (Long Version)
From El Juicio (The Judgement): Collectables COL-CD 6254 [Buy]

Keith Jarrett – Pyramids Moving
From Mysteries: The Impulse Years 1975-76: Impulse IMPD-4-189 [Buy]

Dewey Redman. Image Copyright Tony Rodgers

Keith Jarrett: American Quartet Part I

A new series starts today, highlighting the work of Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet.

From 1971 to 1976, Jarrett led the American “Quartet”, along with drummer Paul Motian, reedman Dewey Redman and bass player Charlie Haden. The group was often supplemented by one or two percussionists and recorded about a dozen albums for Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Impulse! and ECM…. Jarrett’s compositions and the strong musical identities of the group members gave this group a very distinct sound. The group’s music was an interesting and exciting amalgam of free jazz, straight-ahead post-bop, gospel music, and exotic Middle-Eastern-sounding improvisations.
– from Wikipedia

And here are two tunes to accompany the small warmth provided by the winter sun over Auckland today. Birth dates from 1972, Everything that Lives Laments is from 1975: both tunes were recorded in New York.

Keith Jarrett Quartet – Birth
From Birth: Wounded Bird Records WOU 1612 [Buy]

Keith Jarrett Quartet – Everything that Lives Laments (Take 6) – 15mins
From Mysteries: The Impulse Years 1975-76: Impulse IMPD-4-189 [Buy]

Charlie Haden

Jarrett Break

Keith Jarrett Quartet – Gypsy Moth
From El Juicio (The Judgement): Collectables COL-CD 6254 [Buy]
It’s rapidly turning into another one of those weeks, so while I have a moment of calm, a track from Mr Jarrett’s extraordinary American Quartet from the early 1970s – Charlie Haden (b), Dewey Redman (ts) and Paul Motian (d).

Right, now back to the chaos.