Keith Jarrett – Bordeaux Concert
(ECM 4576608. Album review by Jon Turney)
Will this be the final solo piano release from Keith Jarrett? We know he can no longer perform, but you’d bet on ECM continuing to pluck new items from the archives. And with such an archive, that’s generally welcome. The live quartet set from 1979 that surfaced as Sleeper back in 2012, for instance, was a superb addition to the Jarrett discography.
This set is the third CD so far from the last tour he made in Europe in 2016. As usual, label and artist suggest that this performance, like the recordings from Munich and Budapest that preceded it, was special. As far as any solo performance by Jarrett is special, I suppose that is true. But this one doesn’t really stand out for me.
The mix is familiar now. After earlier troubles with chronic fatigue syndrome prompted a departure from the extended improvisations of his widely celebrated live solo work, he took to presenting a series of shorter extemporised pieces, 13 in the sequence on this CD. That produced results that compare well with the mammoth soliloquys of earlier days – when a Jarrett concert perhaps needed a chairperson who could say, now and again, “Thank you, Mr Jarrett, you’ve made your point now. May we please move on?”
Often, as in Bordeaux, the sequence begins with an atonally-leaning rumination – much the longest section here – followed by other more conventionally grounded items that range over diverse jazz, classical, and gospel inspirations. The later short sections are increasingly lyrical meditations, and several are delightful. But the whole is not quite one that invites repeat listening.
The results, as anyone risks with this kind of high-wire act, are uneven. My notes on each piece include exclamation points for musical peaks, but also impressions such as: “iii. chords developed with a foot thump. OK, this is Keith Jarrett noodling, but it is still noodling”; v. “a touch of Randy Weston’s insistence here, but having created the patterns he doesn’t do a huge lot with them – sounds like a pianist of high technical accomplishment passing the time with a clever exercise.”
You may compare the way this all sounds in your living room to the response in concert. The Bordeaux audience applaud warmly though politely after the dull bits, and ecstatically after the more obviously successful ones. As things go on, they applaud ecstatically after dull bits, too, as for a peculiarly lead-footed excursion on the blues in part viii. Perhaps you had to be there. By the closing selections, everyone is clearly on a high, and there’s no doubt it was a thoroughly satisfying occasion for everyone.
If you are a Jarrett lover, you’ll know if you want this one. If you need a recommendation for someone new to the solo work, this probably isn’t the place to start. Try Rio (2011), perhaps, Paris/London (2009) or even – still a favourite after all these years – the studio set on Facing You (1972).
That one, of course, predates the entirely improvised concerts that threaded through the rest of his career. I imagine we’ll see still more of them issued. But perhaps Manfred Eicher needs to take care that any future releases don’t allow us to hear, along with the pianist’s reliably annoying “involuntary” vocalisations, the sound of barrels being, very gently, scraped?
Announcement of this release – with quotes from recent interview
Categories: Album review