ECM 3-LP 1037 / 450 5325 & 2-CD 1035
Keith Jarrett (piano)
Recorded March & July 1973
For many, Keith Jarrett’s solo piano recordings began with “The Köln Concert,” which is akin to starting a story a few chapters in. If the now notoriously bad piano that Jarrett had to contend with in January 1975 when making the solo record that would sell in unheard-of quantities for such music contributes to the concert in any way, it must surely be in the romantic notion of the artist overcoming adversity.
Yes, musically speaking, “The Köln Concert” is a great record, but its achievements should not overpower what came before, and ultimately lead to its creation.
Jarrett’s first tentative steps towards the improvised solo piano performances for which he is so celebrated began in the recording studio, and the ECM released album “Facing You,” recorded in November 1971. A mixture of pre-composed pieces and improvisation, the album would sow the seed for what was to follow.
If the music does not have the sheer grandeur of the live performances, it does give a valuable insight into Jarrett’s thinking at the time.
Following the solo album, Jarrett would test out his concept of solo piano recitals where tunes would be linked by improvised interludes before ultimately the tunes themselves would be jettisoned altogether.
By the time the recordings from Bremen and Lausanne were made, Jarrett was fully aware of his concept for solo recitals, and the decision to start with a blank canvas and allow the music to flow in spontaneous improvisation was fully realized.
The pianist was able to conceive music in the moment that was dramatic, tender, compelling, and most importantly, communicated instantly to the audiences in attendance.
If, as already stated, “The Köln Concert” was the breakthrough album, the music presented here is just as valuable and very different from the music recorded some eighteen months later. Indeed, the two concerts that make up the re-issued 3-LP set are also quite different in style and content.
Recorded just a few months apart, they are different concerts in terms of the variety of the music presented in each, and from a qualitative point of view, they are inseparable.
The Bremen concert opens with a gentle and evolving melody from Jarrett that gradually builds in intensity, taking on a more dogmatic approach as the pianist worries at phrases and clusters of notes, examining each as if from a distance at times.
Finding a pleasing avenue of exploration, Jarrett moves the music ever onward, and his remarkable use of ostinato that would become a given at any future Jarrett performance if given full rein with the flights of fancy that are developed in his right-hand runs.
“Part IIa” also begins gently with a delightful melodic progression that has a stately quality, as Jarrett keeps a grip on the music. There are many points of departure in this segment, but Jarrett refuses to follow them and resolutely continues with the heavy-sounding chords.
The tension is almost unbearable until there is a return to wisps of the melody heard at the beginning of the piece, referenced again before a rolling left-hand figure once again takes the music along a different path.
Moments like this come thick and fast, and as always with a Jarrett performance, careful listening reveals many delights, almost too many to catch on the first listen. With the benefit of recordings such as this, we are truly able to catch the breadth and beauty of the music.
The music heard in Lausanne also begins in a reflective mood, and Jarrett takes an unhurried approach to the music. Never one to gush and let ideas pour out at an alarming or overwhelming rate, the music gradually darkens with an emphasis on picking out the melodies from the middle and lower registers of the piano.
Seemingly unable or unwilling to sustain this, the music once again flows in a more joyous and harmonious manner.
Always evolving and never resting, it becomes denser, Jarrett allows the chords to crash against each other. At around the 24-minute mark, Jarrett picks up an ostinato and decides to run with it, lifting the music to another plane.
In “Part 2” of the Lausanne performance, the pianist plays the body and inside of the keyboard, tapping percussively on the frame of the instruments and reaching over to pluck the strings. Launching into a gospel-influenced riff, the music carries on in yet another glorious direction.
By the time Jarrett is done, there have been tender melodies and dissonance, as the pianist allows the music to tantalize and tease in equal measures.
It took some nerve after the release of “Facing You” to go all out with a 3-LP set of solo piano improvisation, but fifty years on, we can be so glad that the music was captured and released in its entirety. A remarkable concert that would lead to many more, and we are all the richer for it.