The complete Hymns, Spheres, at last available on compact disc. Keith Jarrett’s first encounter with the Karl Joseph Riepp baroque organ of the Abbey of Ottobeuren – one of the great improvisers of the age communing with one of Europe’s most famous instruments – brought forth some truly unique music. The 1976 double LP release has long been a favourite amongst organ music aficionados as well as Jarrett’s loyal following, admired for Jarrett’s spontaneous improvisational resourcefulness, the variety of textures drawn from the instrument, and for the sheer physical power of the sound in the church, beautifully captured in the ECM recording.
Here we have simplicity itself: a series of piano transcriptions of some solemn, now-dark, now-affirmative religious hymns by one G.I. Gurdjieff, with none of the usual flourishes and heady flights usually associated with Keith Jarrett's solo records. Jarrett assumes the proper devotional position, playing with a steady tread but always with attention to dynamic extremes, producing a gorgeously rich piano tone with plenty of bass. The whole record has a serene dignity, even at its loudest levels, that gets to you, and that should be enough for the devout Jarrett following.
The reason to mention the "particulars" of this document of informal sessions is because Keith Jarrett went to the trouble of doing so in his liner notes: they came about in the aftermath of him and Charlie Haden playing together during a documentary film about Haden. The duo, who hadn't played together in over 30 years, got along famously and decided to do some further recording in Jarrett's home studio without an end result in mind. The tapes sat – though were discussed often – for three years before a decision was made to release them. Jarrett used his home Steinway instead of his usual concert Boisendorfer.
This gargantuan package – a ten-LP set now compressed into a chunky six-CD box – once was derided as the ultimate ego trip, probably by many who didn't take the time to hear it all. You have to go back to Art Tatum's solo records for Norman Granz in the '50s to find another large single outpouring of solo jazz piano like this, all of it improvised on the wing before five Japanese audiences in Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, and Sapporo. Yet the miracle is how consistently good much of this giant box is.
In this in-depth portrait of one the world's superstars of jazz, pianist Keith Jarrett talks the range of his music, the importance of improvisation, the great artists he has worked with, and about the highs and lows of his life. Further insights are provided by fellow musicians, family members and other musical associates. Incorporating recordings and rare archive footage of concerts dating back to the 1960s and including such greats as Miles Davis and Charles Lloyd, this first-ever major documentary has been made with the full cooperation of Keith Jarrett himself.
The group colloquially known as “the Standards trio” has made many outstanding recordings, and After The Fall must rank with the very best of them. “I was amazed to hear how well the music worked,” writes Keith Jarrett in his liner note. “For me, it’s not only a historical document, but a truly great concert.” This performance in Newark, New Jersey in November 1998 marked Jarrett’s return to the concert stage after a two year hiatus. Joined by improvising partners Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, he glides and soars through classics of the Great American Songbook including “The Masquerade Is Over”, “Autumn Leaves”, “When I Fall In Love” and “I’ll See You Again”.
In his timeless solo concerts, Jarrett displays the uncanny ability to drop himself into a piece of improvised music as if it has been playing invisibly in the ether all along, requiring him only to pick up from whichever measure he encounters and leave the music to continue on after he has left the stage. This album predates Jarrett’s Köln concert by just two years and was the one that really put him on the map before that legendary successor. Yet we cannot simply say that Jarrett is channeling the cosmos and leave it at that, for he inhabits a melodic space that is tangible, his own. Though filed under jazz, this music is something far more than any generic summary could express. Still, I persist in trying.
This combination works. Vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Keith Jarrett (along with guitarist Sam Brown, bassist Steve Swallow, and drummer Bill Goodwin) play four Jarrett originals plus Steve Swallow's "Como en Vietnam." Elements of pop music, rock, country, and the jazz avant-garde are used in the mixture of styles and the results are quite logical.