Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette will be playing in the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday evening. Aside from a few wheelchair spaces it looks from the Southbank Centre website like all the seats are sold – and, no, I am certainly not suggesting you able-bodied slackers who don’t already have a ticket should fake a mobility problem to get in!
I don’t have a ticket, partly because I am one of those slackers who didn’t quite get around to booking in time, but also because, exciting and absorbing as it was last time around, especially as I was seeing Jarrett in concert for the first time, I’m not sure that hearing this music in such a large venue and with all the hype that has started to surround Jarrett’s appearances is really not making too many compromises.
What do I remember of that evening two years ago? Well there was certainly some lovely music played oh so far away by those three small men on that vast stage. They did seem to play a very short concert followed by quite a long series of encores, which meant that between each of the last half dozen tunes there was an awful lot of applause and walking on and off and general worship at the shrine of KJ.
But when one’s overwhelming memory is of how many times you have been told to switch your phone off and warned that if you so much as think of taking a picture you will have your eyes surgically removed layer by layer, or if you even emit one too heavy a breath you will be removed for insulting not only the guru Keith but all of music that has ever been played in a public place since the gargling of the first amoeba, then one has to ask: has the point been lost here somewhere?
By complete coincidence, a couple of days ago, I paid a visit to my favourite record shop, Polar Bear in Kings Heath, Birmingham, and found that sitting there in the glass cabinet of box sets, between Amon Duul II and Delta Blues Greats, was Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note: The Complete Recordings. ECM 527 638-2 dates from 1995, and comprises six CDs documenting every note played by Keith, Gary and Jack over six sets in three nights in June 1994 at the famous Manhattan jazz club. It was in immaculate condition and only £50!
As I write this the band is working up a small tornado in the the middle of Alec Wilder’s While We’re Young, having previously warmed themselves up with Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way and George Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On (Well, only half an hour so far, since you ask, but I’ve still got five and a half more CDs to go). I’m already in heaven and expecting to visit even higher clouds in that particular firmament over the next few hours… or days, even.
It’s terrific stuff, and miked nice and close, so that, if you close your eyes, not only could you be there, but you could be at a table right at the front. This is wonderfully conversational and intimate music, and the close confines and warm atmosphere of a jazz club is where it was first created and where it really should be heard.
So, I know that listening to music that has been translated into digits and back out again to flow from your living room speakers is not at all the same as listening to the musicians there in the room and feeling the sound waves from piano, bass and drums hitting your eardrums without interruption or translation. But I also ask: on Wednesday evening, when I am sitting at home in a small city in Staffordshire listening to Keith Jarrett, will I be less happy than that full hall of Jarrett fans, many of whom have paid £75 a seat to see three small men on a vast stage play an hour and some with loads of threats before and during?
If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, I wish you a truly wonderful evening, memorable for all the right musical reasons; for the rest of you, might I suggest you slip a Jarrett trio disc into the CD player, pour yourself a glass of your favourite, and reflect with me that there is more than one way to experience the art of one our greatest living musicians. And that this latter method might be the less encumbered, purer way of enjoying that art.
Categories: CD review