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November 9 , 2006

Keith Jarrett: Recent Press

Keith Jarrett’s rare solo concerts invariably draw the attention of the international press. His November performances at Paris’s Salle Pleyel were no exception. Wolfgang Sandner filed a long and insightful review for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on November 6. Below, some translated excerpts:

“(...) Keith Jarrett is probably the most knowledgeable, virtuosic, creative, imaginative and above all reckless pianist of our time. This applies both to jazz and to so-called classical music. For if there is a pianist who knows no stylistic boundaries, who is equally au courant with Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and the bebop pianism of Bud Powell or the stride style of James P. Johnson, with Stockhausen's piano music and Schumann's Kinderszenen, that pianist is Keith Jarrett, a musician who was born in 1945, trained for three months with Art Blakey, served an apprenticeship in Charles Lloyd's combo and attained mastery in three years with Miles Davis.
All of this was amply demonstrated from Jarrett's very first note in the Salle Pleyel, a concert hall once dreaded for its frigid, all-exposing marmoreal splendour but now, after renovation, virtually ideal for recitals of this sort. No exaggerated reverberation, no arid acoustics requiring extra exertion from the pianist, not a note that sounds different on stage from the way the listener hears it, no pianissimo sinkholes where sounds vanish before they reach the first row of seats in the auditorium.
It must have inspired Jarrett to such a degree that, in a few magical moments during his two hours of free improvisation, he managed to bring off things that are by rights impossible: vibrato on the piano keys, crescendos during bars of rest. Pianists have been ever at pains to transcend the comparatively rigid sound of their instrument by using the pedals and applying a legato touch. Jarrett allows his fingers to vibrate on the keys as if they were touching the strings of a Stradivarius. And lo, the sounds dissolve beneath his quivering fingers, gaining colour and warmth. At times his playing comes to an abrupt halt. But during the short intervening pause before the next phalanx of chords or continuing melodic line the tension only increases, as if the vanished passage were capable of expanding ex post facto.
A shrewd contemporary once described what makes Bach so different from other composers. Those who write for the clavier, he claimed, must adjust themselves to the instrument, but with Bach the instrument has to accommodate the composer. Something along these lines evidently takes place when Jarrett unveils his extempore compositions. His fingers surge over the manual so that the keys seem to bend. The vaunted Steinway action fails utterly as the keys, once struck, hardly have time to return to their starting points.
But the most amazing thing is, as always, the inexhaustible flow of ideas from this omnipotent pianist. The simplest melodies are reharmonised over and over again, transforming a song reminiscent of a jazz standard into an impressionist painting. Pedal points and repeated notes spawn veritable eruptions of sound, turning a contrapuntal invention into a Bartókian allegro barbaro. Seemingly incompatible sounds are assembled into logical pieces of sculpture in which swing rhythms and jazz harmonies are mere elements in an all-embracing improvisatory style built on free association.
Suddenly, after two rich hours of the most magical rhapsodies, brutal hammerings, grotesque genre pieces and cascades of notes demanding the full use of his lithe body, Jarrett stands up and leaves the concert platform as if he had just tossed off a few warming-up exercises (...)
- translation: J. Bradford Robinson

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Keith Jarrett’s newest ECM release is the 2-CD set “The Carnegie Hall Concert”.
A complete Jarrett piano recital can be witnessed on the DVD “Tokyo Solo”.