DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette – Live in Japan 1993 & 1996 (2008)

Both Jarrett and ECM are famous for their attention to detail and exactingly high standards, and Live in Japan 93/96 shows a meticulous concentration to all aspects, both for the ear and the eye.

Published on March 21, 2009

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette – Live in Japan 1993 & 1996 (2008)

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette – Live in Japan 1993 & 1996 (2008)

Studio: ECM DVD 177 2710
Video: 16:9 (1993), 4:3 (1996)
Audio: PCM Stereo
Extras: Scene selections
Length: 230 minutes
Rating: *****

Scene 1, Act 1: open on a slightly drizzly afternoon. Long shot of a crowd looking for seats at the Open Theater East, Tokyo, Japan on July 25, 1993. Soon, clapping commences as a man enters the stage. Medium close-up on Keith Jarrett.  And so begins Live in Japan 93/96, featuring pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The double-disc is a feast for Keith Jarrett Trio fans, containing two complete Japanese concerts, comprising nearly four hours of jazz history, ranging form Broadway show tune standards to Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis covers to Jarrett originals.

Live jazz films do not come much better than this package: outstanding audio, engaging video direction, three virtuoso musicians interacting, communicating,  and improvising. Both Jarrett and ECM are famous for their attention to detail and exactingly high standards, and Live in Japan 93/96 shows a meticulous concentration to all aspects, both for the ear and the eye.

The first DVD was initially sold as a single video, Live At Open Theater East 1993, so this current DVD set may not be new to long-time Jarrett aficionados. Those who have seen this trio in action on stage can attest to the fact that watching them is interesting. With medium and close-up cinematography, slow zooms and pans, wipes, and tracking shots, Live in Japan 93/96 reveals specifics that the Tokyo audience members might have missed. Jarrett creases his eyes in visceral thought, he grimaces, he bobs and weaves to the melodies, he hunches over in an almost gnome-like posture, while he fervently twists ideas from his piano, and of course perforates his improvisations with his well-known and unearthly vocal mannerisms. But this is a group effort, obviously, and the film highlights the three artists attuned thoroughly to each other. Viewers can watch how Jack DeJohnette swings effortlessly and easily, from hard-edged bebop beats to his soft touch with brushes and cymbals, unveiling the finest footage of DeJohnette’s percussive talent ever seen on a screen. And its marvelous to view Gary Peacock as he plucks the bass strings with his large, mobile fingers, and swivels out the rhythm on upbeat pieces. The cameras push in close for the trio’s facial and body expressions throughout, affording room to see the threesome conversing as one unit, and also functioning as independent soloists.

There are many significant junctures during the 1993 appearance, but some distinguished moments occur during “Basin Street Blues,” when Jarrett expresses how well things are going with an ear to ear grin; a robust, trilateral spin through Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” and a dark-hued venture via Jarrett’s “The Cure.” But certainly one of the most poetic intervals is the 26-minute consummation that meshes Miles Davis’ “Solar” with Jarrett’s “Extension.” It’s an astounding occurrence that is characteristic of the trio’s superlative artistry and brims with passion and intensity, and the performance never appears overlong nor tiresome.

The second DVD has also been issued previously as a separate release, titled Trio Concert 1996, and was also is available in truncated fashion as the compact disc Tokyo `96. However, this is the entire set of the Tokyo Orchard Hall concert, held on March 30, 1996. Like the first DVD, there is a fine mix of Jarrett originals and covers, including material written by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, as well as more standards showcases. Jarrett is brightly enthusiastic and in magnificent form on melodic and interlaced renditions of a cheerfully funk-inflected “Billie’s Bounce” and a lovely, profound realization of “My Funny Valentine,” which ends with a segment based on Jarrett’s “A Song.” Peacock is also at a high peak, particularly during “Mona Lisa,” one of several instances where he demonstrates his poised melodic skills, and he lays out a heady, steady groove throughout the Jarrett boogie-woogie bite “Caribbean Sky,” a spontaneous coda that concludes “Last Night When We Were Young.” Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette are also quite soulful on a gyrating take of Ray Bryant’s “Tonk,” which closes the 1996 show with an energetic adjournment.

As mentioned earlier, this is an untarnished and utterly satisfying live recording. Viewers can hear, and see, Peacock’s subtlest bass phrases, discern every tiny whisper made by DeJohnette’s brushes, and of course, Jarrett’s decisive keyboard alchemy, from arrayed chord changes to delicate single-note clusters. You can almost feel the sweat when the trio mops their brows after heated moments like the boisterous finale to Bud Powell’s “John’s Abbey.”  The DVD does not have any extras, which is not unexpected. Supplementary behind-the-scenes components, commentary, or other extraneous items are not needed. Chapters exist so fans can enjoy specific songs, if desired.  [The PCM 2.0 track is so clean that it decodes very well with Pro Logic II for just as good a surround effect as many 5.1 DVDs (with speakers). Too bad Dolby Headphone is such a failure; chalk one up and one down for Dolby...Ed.]

– Doug Simpson




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