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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Keith Jarrett: Alone Again (Naturally) - New York Times

Keith Jarrett: Alone Again (Naturally) - New York TimesSeptember 28, 2005
Keith Jarrett: Alone Again (Naturally)

No living jazz pianist has wrung more drama from the solo recital than Keith Jarrett. His vaulting, improvised concerts - melodic marathons, gleaming with significance - brought him international acclaim in the 1970's, along with a sizeable audience. His album "The Köln Concert" (ECM), issued 30 years ago, ranks among the best-selling solo piano recordings of all time.

But Mr. Jarrett, who has described the solo regimen as an ordeal, has devoted most of his attention to trio playing in recent years. "Radiance" (ECM), released this year, is his first live solo recording in a decade, and his appearance at Carnegie Hall on Monday night was the first North American solo recital in nearly as long. This added up to a major event.

As on "Radiance," Mr. Jarrett divided the concert into discrete episodes, each pointing toward the next. He began with a rumbling overture that summoned the stern angularity of modern classical music. Then, in quick succession: an indirectly bluesy vamp tune, a mournfully chiming morsel of flamenco, and a bouquet of harplike glissandi. He was dancing gracefully around a theme, but these first few extemporizations were mere miniatures, suggestive yet incomplete.

The more compelling pieces were haunted by familiar song structures. Mr. Jarrett closed the first half of the concert with a troubled but consonant melody that would have sounded at home in a movie score.

During the second half, he followed a New Orleans strut with a yearning gospel hymn. The evening's most jazzlike number was a complex concoction offhandedly evocative of Thelonious Monk; Mr. Jarrett embellished it with boogie-woogie flourishes, stomping rhythms and a hard-charging bebop line in octaves.

Touch is a big part of his technique; there's a buttery quality to his piano articulation that softens any dissonance. So his avant-garde gestures, which always stop short of atonality, can seem both courageous and reasonable; and on ballads, his tone fulfills a voluptuous melancholy. The final piece bridged the gap, with a round of pastel tremolos over a syncopated Middle Eastern drone.

Mr. Jarrett has likened his solo concerts to athletic contests, and at times his exertions underscored the point. He grunted, moaned and sighed along with his melodies; he rose from his bench to stoop over the keys. His entire body swayed and convulsed, as if his hands were affixed not to a piano but to a source of electrical current. (In fact, he has used that metaphor, too.)

The audience read these ecstasies as deeply heroic. Mr. Jarrett was called back for five separate encores: a ballad and a blues, both improvised, and the evening's first three bona fide compositions, including the vintage original "My Song" and the standard "Time on My Hands." He basked in each ovation with an appreciative good humor; he seemed to be having a good time.

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