Jazz CD Reviews

Keith Jarrett – Sleeper (1979/2012) – ECM (2 CDs)

Never-before-heard Jarrett is a must-hear.

Published on September 25, 2012

Keith Jarrett – Sleeper (1979/2012) – ECM (2 CDs)

Keith Jarrett – Sleeper (1979/2012) – ECM 2290/91 B0017162-02, CD 1: 45:26; CD 2: 61:27 *****:

(Keith Jarrett – piano, percussion; Jan Garbarek – tenor & soprano saxophone, flute, percussion; Palle Danielsson – double-bass; Jon Christensen – drums, percussion)

Pianist Keith Jarrett is probably best known as a soloist who spontaneously improvises on stage with no prior planning; or as the leader of his ongoing standards trio, with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. During the 1970s, Jarrett led two explorative quartets, identified by fans as the American quartet, with saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian; and the European quartet (also called the Belonging group, so-named after the unit’s 1974 debut), with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. The two-disc Sleeper is an unquestionable discovery: two sets (plus an encore) from a hitherto unissued concert by Jarrett’s European quartet, from an April 16, 1979 date at Tokyo’s Nakano Sun Plaza. Basically, this material (clocking in at just over 1 hour, 45 minutes) acts as a companion and contrast to the European quartet’s preceding live documents, Nude Ants (1979) and Personal Mountains (also taped in 1979 but not released until 1989): the band also did two studio projects (1974’s Belonging and 1977’s My Song: nothing from the studio records appears here). Sleeper presents a confirmation of the creative communication between Jarrett, Garbarek, Danielsson and Christensen. Note: there is no crossover with the quartet’s previously issued live music, although some of the same titles show up on Sleeper. These seven tracks (the lengthiest at nearly 30 minutes and the shortest at seven) have never before been heard outside of the venue. One track, “So Tender,” was unveiled for the first time. Jarrett later included this cut as the only original on his trio outing Standards, Vol. 2 (ECM, 1985).

The foursome commence with a vibrant 21-minute version of “Personal Mountains,” five minutes longer than the rendition on the quartet’s 1989 live release. “Personal Mountains” is a dynamic starter, with a relentless groove punctuated by Jarrett’s alert hands on the keyboard and Danielsson and Christensen’s doubled rhythm. Garbarek’s slightly dry sax is heard as well, particularly when he steps forward to solo. This rendering outdoes the earlier one: the four musicians manage to sound completely free and untethered while also maintaining a solid swing; and the audio is better than the somewhat brittle tone which marred Nude Ants. “Personal Mountains” segues without any break into the elegiac, lyrical “Innocence,” which is stippled by Garbarek’s pastoral and palette-like sax work, a harbinger to what he brought to his future ECM solo records. “Innocence” has a folkish quality highlighted by Garbarek’s cool timbre, and Jarrett’s single-note elaborations and his cadenced vocal accompaniment (second note: Jarrett does not murmur or hum along to most selections on Sleeper, which should appease listeners annoyed by his oral garnishments). The flowing “So Tender” closes out the first CD: Jarrett opens with a brief solo piano introduction, Garbarek enters with his poetic sax lines, and then the tune brightens and accelerates as Danielsson and Christensen inject their rhythmic edge, and the piece quickly becomes a genuine swinger. “So Tender” is proof positive this quartet was indeed one for the ages and is also a showcase for Jarrett’s expertise as an imaginative composer.

The second set, and second CD, is launched with the stalwart and extended “Oasis,” which gets going via Jarrett and Christensen’s percussion and Garbarek’s plaintive flute. This performance is two minutes shorter than the one from Nude Ants, and has an extemporaneous and thematic folk/world music correlation similar to what Don Cherry experimented with earlier the same decade. As the epic piece continues, Danielsson shifts to arco bass and the percussive components heighten and hasten, especially when Christensen’s drums roll and tick in, followed by Jarrett’s switch from percussion to piano. From the eight-minute mark on, the quartet push and prod each other as the music ebbs and rises, from quicksilver rhythmic stabs to quietly nurtured sax and piano interludes. While a 28-minute excursion may be taxing for some, for the most part “Oasis” turns and wheels compellingly enough to capture most listeners’ attention. Garbarek, for instance, displays a feistier panache than he would present on subsequent efforts.

Despite the title, the 14-minute “Chant of the Soil” has an open-ended groove rather than a folky stance, and is stimulated by Danielson’s invigorated double-bass, Christensen’s drums and Jarrett’s soulful piano phrases. Garbarek’s tone is not quite as earthy: sometimes it seems a baritone would have fitted better and some R&B influence might have benefitted the arrangement, but that missing element is balanced out by Jarrett’s gospel-tinted coloring. Anyone who does not think Jarrett can’t pocket a groove should hear this. A darker slower pitch courses through the ballad “Prism,” where Jarrett and Danielsson establish the piece with a piano/bass duet. Christensen adds subtle percussive effects with sticks and cymbals and eventually Garbarek slips in his ethereal sax which, here and there, has a John Klemmer-esque shimmer. The 11-minute long “Prism,” like some of the other tracks, has a gradual build-up, and generates a multihued allure before it concludes. The quartet encores with “New Dance,” a more concise version than on Nude Ants. This is exuberant and fresh-sounding, and has an optimistic enthusiasm which nicely caps the 2-CD set.

TrackList:
CD 1 – Personal Mountains; Innocence; So Tender
CD 2 – Oasis; Chant of the Soil; Prism; New Dance

—Doug Simpson




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