CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Keith Jarrett – La Fenice

Keith Jarrett – La Fenice
(ECM Records – ECM 2601. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This extraordinary live solo performance by American pianist/composer Keith Jarrett, was recorded at that most beautiful of theatres, La Fenice (The Phoenix) in Venice, and is released as a double CD by ECM. Though the performance took place in July 2006, the release is timely – this year Jarrett was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2018 62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music in Venice. Previous winners include composers Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Sofia Gubaidulina and Steve Reich. Jarrett is the first “jazz” composer to get the award, though I am sure that Jarrett fans will be not surprised at his joining this illustrious club of celebrated modern composers.

Since The Köln Concert, a solo performance recorded in January 1975 for ECM, Jarrett has released many fine live solo piano CDs, and this is no exception. On La Fenice we get 97 minutes of mostly improvised composition – the bulk of the album is an incredibly varied eight part suite. This piece covers an astonishing array of differing styles, beginning with fierce atonal Modernism, some of which would sit perfectly well alongside the oeuvre of his fellow Golden Lion composers. It moves on through movements of shimmering impressionist lyricism, minimalist contemplation, and muscular rhythm.

You have no idea where he is going but you go with it, it is compelling. The end of the vigorous Part V resolves neatly like a final movement, but no, here is another, a beautiful melodic exploration, leading us upwards.

There are surprises along the way. After Part VI he departs from the suite to give us a charming version of The Sun Whose Rays. This song from The Mikado, often regarded as just another jolly tune from those funny chaps Gilbert & Sullivan, is a gem. I for one am delighted that Jarrett has chosen to showcase its loveliness with his delicate arrangement. After this bright interlude he goes back for the last two movements of his suite. By Part VII Jarrett is in the zone, with a radiantly harmonious piece, and then to finish, seven minutes of a fabulous rolling blues. It must have been wonderful to be in the audience in Venice that hot July night – the applause is rapturous.

To finish, Jarrett takes his time with three wildly different songs (encores?) starting with My Wild Irish Rose. This is an Irish popular song from 1899, previously recorded by Jarrett in 1999 on the album The Melody At Night, With You – his version here is lush and romantic. Next he plays an extremely lively Stella By Starlight, and finally Blossom, an actual Jarrett standard, first recorded with his European Quartet in 1974. This last is a delight, it works perfectly as a solo piano composition, and is a flawless end to an astonishing musical journey.

Keith Jarrett – piano
All compositions by Keith Jarrett except where indicated

Track listing:
CD 1
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

CD 2
Part VI
The Sun Whose Rays (Arthur Gilbert, A.S. Sullivan)
Part VII
My Wild Irish Rose (Traditional)
Stella By Starlight (Victor Young, Ned Washington)

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