ECM: Heroic achievement of a man alone

ECM 40 YEARSKeith Jarrett: Paris/London (Testament) (ECM 2709583)
We’ve been lucky to get to listen to solo concerts from Keith Jarrett at iregular intervals down the last 40 years but not since the multi-disc releases of the 1970s has there been quite such a work of greatness as this.

While the individual “part” names of the earlier long and flowing improvisational streams of musical consciousness felt stuck on afterwards, the solo albums of more recent years have fallen, like the concerts themselves, into more naturally confined smaller cells of music. In both Paris on 26 November 2008 (one disc) and in London on 1 December 2008 (two discs), we’re somewhere between the two. The evenings are broken down into eight and 12 parts respectively, but there is, especially in London, much more flow of ideas. And less abstraction than we have been used to of late.

Take Part III from Paris – it’s musical equivalent of a set of pellucid pools, plunging depths and climbing heights in shimmering reflection, breaking the light up one minute, mirror-clear the next. What follows it is a much more fractured but no less revealing display of almost Cecil Taylorish pianistic tectonic plate shifting. The Paris concert is certainly quite a roller-coaster ride of emotions.

London clearly bore improvisational fruit for Jarrett, but it was even more hard-won. He reveals in the extraordinarily frank liner notes – and he has covered some of the same ground in recent interviews – that he came very close to a nervous breakdown in the days before the London gig. His wife had left him before these concerts, he was clearly a man on the very edge, clinging to what he felt he had left of his life. That what he chose to cling to was a grand piano on a concert hall stage is possibly what brought him back from that edge, but it is certainly what gives us both alarming and, in some ways, comforting insights into the nature of artistic creativity and its ability to both explore the darkest parts of the human psyche while possibly healing them, too.

The “big stuff” contained in these 12 pieces is, then, to be expected: drama, rage, despair, hopelessness, searching… What is more surprising in the circumstances is the funkier parts – like the lyrical gospel of Part III which seems to quote Part IIc of Koln Concert and comes close to parts of Country from My Song. Here is a man alone and taking simple refuge in the elemental musical pleasures of melody and groove.

Part V is busy and searching through the tangles, but Part VI finds a degree of peace and tranquility, with an almost Celtic lyrical twirl to the melody line. Part VII has a dark funk rhythm and a bluesy sway, and leads into the slow, near In A Silent Way dignity of Part VIII, again with a kind of folksong lilt. The final three parts have elements of spiritual and soul in them and achieve a kind of going home ecstatic air. He grunts and moans a lot of the time, but now he’s really singing! It’s almost as if Jarrett is celebrating the conclusion of what even he must have considered one of the crowning achievements of his already jewel-heavy musical career.



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