This four-CD set gathers together four solo concerts the American pianist gave in Italy 20 years ago. In Modena, Ferrara, Torino and Genova over eight days, Jarrett seems to have brought all his experience, his knowledge and his energy to bear and the unpredictable forces of inspiration and being in the right frame of mind and spirit did the rest. He wouldn’t have known these would be the last of his characteristic improvised, unbroken solo recitals before he fell victim to the debilitating period of chronic fatigue which was to change the way he worked. Or maybe, deep in his subconsciousness, he did.
Not only are these extraordinary performances – in fact Jarrett considers them the pinnacle of his career – but they have many aspects in common with his early and most famous and best-loved recording, Köln Concert, as well as stretching further into the more abstract, fragmented style he would later adopt.
In one of my favourite bits of jazz writing, the New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett lists the musical references that a solo Jarrett performance may “reflect and refract”. It goes like this: “Bill Evans, Indian ragas, Ray Bryant, Stephen Foster, Chopin, Dave Brubeck, Cecil Taylor, Beethoven, Art Tatum, Debussy, Bud Powell, Brahms, the blues, Rachmaninoff, Gospel music, Bach, Horace Silver, Lennie Tristano, flamenco music, folk songs, the Warsaw Concerto, McCoy Tyner, George Gershwin, the Bolero, boogie-woogie and Liszt”.
In A Multitude Of Angels it’s all here. There are the lyrical, Romantic themes; there are the African-influenced repeating motifs which build, with accompanying foot stamps, into hypnotic improvisations (Modena); there are the moments of high drama and quiet resolve; there are times when the pianist seems to be inventing songs which transform and transmute in a seemingly endless way, or at least with a long arc, the final resolution never quite arriving (Ferrara); there are sequences distinctly Japanese in their harmony, space, and delicate placing of notes and chords (Ferrara again). And, after the gargantuan efforts of performances lasting over an hour hardly without interruption, there are the exquisite encores, which here include graceful explorations of Danny Boy and Over The Rainbow.
Jarrett writes in the liner notes: “Last night, as I listened to the end of the final concert, I found I had been ‘prepared’ by all that came before, and remembered (with a shock) what all this stuff was about. It was about being conscious in the moment, and in that moment I was saturated with memory of who I was in 1996, what my thoughts were about, what galvanised my life into a struggle for exactly the consciousness that we can so easily lose.”
It is for the supreme artists – like Jarrett – to articulate most clearly the true meaning of being conscious in the moment. These four discs are profound examples of such achievement.
One of the releases of the year.
Categories: CD review