Jazz CD Reviews

Keith Jarrett – The Carnegie Hall Concert – ECM

The pianist now improvises shorter episodes, separated by interminable applause

Published on October 24, 2006

Keith Jarrett – The Carnegie Hall Concert – ECM
Keith Jarrett – The Carnegie Hall Concert – ECM 1989/90 (2 CDs) 33:24, 72:00 ***1/2:

Pianist Keith Jarrett has been doing solo concerts for many years, as well as recording classical solo piano albums. A second booklet is enclosed with this album showing his 24 previous albums in both genres – a staggering feat. He hadn’t done a solo concert in North America for a decade until the night of September 26, 2005 when this one was recorded by ECM at Isaac Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall.

Jarrett has made recent changes in his style of improvisation.  Rather than playing long selections of various connected episodes as in his famous Köln Concert, Vienna Concert and others, he now allows himself to stop when it seems appropriate, without giving a particular musical idea more space than it requires. Quoting Jarrett himself: “If I start to play and a minute-and-a-half later I feel a piece is over, I’ll stop.”

The longest of the ten parts in the main improvisations is the first one, and it is just over nine minutes, serving almost as an overture to the rest of the improvisations. The varied episodes which follow show a pleasing contrast yet connection with one another. There is less of the past continuous rocking groove in the left hand plus free figurations in the right hand treble. Some of them sound almost like standard composed pieces, which I suppose is the sign of a very good improvisation.  I found the first few too atonal for my taste.  In fact, I wondered if Jarrett decided on the odd division of the tracks between the two CDs – only 33 minutes on the first disc – because the first five sections which are on that disc are less tonal and the five sections on disc 2 honor melody more fully.  I found nos. VII and VIII especially lyric and lovely. I for one won’t be listening to disc 1 frequently.  The second CD concludes with the five encores to the program, most around a five or six-minute length. The centerpiece My Song is a new solo piano version of the title tune he recorded for ECM in l977 in quartet form.

Piano sound is excellent – just because it’s a live concert no longer means a recording is deficient.  And ECM’s recordings all preserve a most natural and rich piano sonic anyway. There are some of the usual Jarrett vocal noises of course; any fan of his is going to accept them just as Glenn Gould’s fans accept his singing. But I must lodge my objection to a stipulation Jarrett made in bringing the live concert to CD: he insisted that every second of the tumultuous applause between every one of the selections be retained on the CD with nothing edited out. Some classical live concert recordings have done that at the very end of the program, but not between every selection!  One can be thoroughly impressed by Jarrett’s astonishing improvisational abilities, but chances are many will see the endless applause ploy as narcissistic excess.

Tracklist = Disc 1: Parts I thru V; Disc 2: Parts VI thru X; The Good America, Paint My Heart Red, My Song, True Blues, Time On My Hands.

- John Henry




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