Jazz CD Reviews

Keith Jarrett, solo piano – Rio – ECM

May be the best Jarrett solo piano improvisation album since The Köln Concert.

Published on November 22, 2011

Keith Jarrett, solo piano – Rio – ECM

Keith Jarrett, solo piano – Rio – ECM 2198/99 (2) [Distr. by Universal] *****:

This live performance was recorded April 9 of this year in Rio, and I think it’s the best solo piano improvisation effort of Jarrett since his famous Koln Concert of 1975 (the best-selling piano album in history). There are no titles: just six selections on the first CD and 9 on the second. They cover a dizzying variety of styles and genres, going from Northern European-style improvisations to straight classical to avant-garde to swinging blues-oriented forays. There is almost none of his previous frequent ostinato bass work with wild improvisation in the treble; it is all of a piece and more homogenous.

There is no danger of Jarrett snarling at the audience for coughing or not paying attention.  His Brazilian fans appear to be hanging on his every note. There is no other jazz pianist in the world doing this sort of thing and succeeding so beautifully at it. The 15 short pieces total are amazingly varied, and average around six minutes each. This is different from the longer improvisations he was doing in the 70s. It is a sort of soundtrack of where Jarrett’s head was at at this time, only a few months ago, in Rio. There is a lot a note-spinning going on, some of it at a rather high avant level, and in Part VII one hears some variations on what seems to be a half-remembered Brazilian melody. In fact, the playing sounds like Jarrett has opened up to the wonderful musical atmosphere of Brazil, having absorbed its sounds and colors.

As usual, Jarrett hums and groans while playing, often annoying listeners. Experts deem it to be a sort of existential anxiety as he confronts the stark keys of the piano, waiting for inspiration. His piano solo concerts are excursions into the unknown. His improvisations can by long Joycean cadences, melodic lines that shift and change, repeat and mutate, until eventually they come together in a welcome coherence. The Rio concert is exceptional in that the tracks are not variations on a theme, flowing musical thoughts, impressions. Jarrett says that sax players have influenced him more than pianists, and because the piano can’t do some of the things they can, the piano can make him mad.

The sonic qualities of the piano reproduction, as usual with ECM, are superb. This is a very important solo piano album, no matter the genre.

—John Sunier




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