The “Best” Keith Jarrett Solo Album? The Legendary Sun Bear Concerts

The “Sun Bear” Concerts

Keith Jarrett has recorded A LOT of solo concerts. Attending one of the last of them in 2015 actually triggered me to start this blog.

I’ve reviewed a number of them here already, and still have the ambition at some point to review them all. You’ll find the links to my reviews of his concerts in Budapest, Munich, Paris, Modena/Ferrara/Torino/Genova, Bregenz/München, Milan, and Bremen/Lausanne, which I mentioned in my 25 Essential Jazz albums. And yes, there’s obviously, the Köln Concert, the best selling solo Jazz album in Jazz history.

None of these concerts is ever not worth exploring, but some are better than others.

The Sun Bear Concerts however are in a good spot to be a contender for the best solo piano album of Jarrett ever. Thanks to my loyal reader Alain for reminding me to finally get this blog post out.

Keith Jarrett Sun Bear Concerts Piano Solo Recorded in Japan ECM DSD64 Remaster

Calling the Sun Bear Concerts an “album” is a bit of an understanding. When they came out, they were a hefty 10 vinyl box (which I still own), and in the days of CDs it still filled 6 of the silver discs. We’re actually talking about 6h42 of music with concerts taken from 5 different cities in Japan, all in 1976, the year following the legendary Köln Concert.

I must admit I’m not even going to try to properly “review” 7 hours of music. It would probably a rather boring read anyhow. What I can say though is that in spite of being this long, this really is a gem of a box.

Jarrett can have three tendencies that I tend to dislike: 1) occasionally, he get’s into “noodling”, i.e the music isn’t going anywhere. Which shouldn’t be surprising given that they are 100% improvised. You barely get this here. Where he found his creative energy, I’m not sure, but let’s face it, the man is a genius. 2) Sometimes Jarrett gets quite beyond tonality. I’m personally not a big fan of this, my simple little brain is just to addicted to actually chords and melodies. Again, very little of this during the 6 hours of music. And 3) there isn’t a Jarrett album without his somewhat obnoxious humming along to the music. I’m still hoping some future AI can filter this out at some point, but on this album, maybe because of the special atmosphere in Japan, he holds himself back much more than usual.

All of this taken together makes this album an absolute must have for any loyal Jarrett fan, but I’d even say it should be your next step after the Köln Concert as your gateway drug, even if you’re not very much into Jazz at all (for me the Köln Concert was the 2nd Jazz album I ever owned, and it clearly got me hooked forever).

My rating: A very definite 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz, 16/44 CD version) or here (Highresaudio DSD remaster)

Delightfulee – Very Much So Indeed

Hard Bop

In the earlier days of my blog, I had an entire series on the Hard Bop period of Jazz. I haven’t written a lot about it recently.

I’m not sure why. Probably because I just haven’t listened to it as much recently. Without noticing, I saw my listening preferences subtly move towards even more classical music, with less emphasis on Jazz.

However, whenever I return to one of my hard bop classics, I can’t help but just truly enjoy the experience. It is a much more visceral enjoyment, compared to the sometimes more intellectual appreciation of some of my classical albums (not that classical music cannot be truly emotional).

Nicely enough, many of the old classics are now being remastered and re-released, which typically gets me to buy the same album again. As is the case in this one.

Lee Morgan: Delightfulee (Blue Note 1966)

Lee Morgan Delightfulee Blue note 1966 24/96
Note

Lee Morgan is mostly known for his legendary album The Sidewinder (see my review here), which I included in my 25 Essential Jazz albums list, but not only he’s been a fantastic sideman on a lot of great albums, including the other legendary classic, Moanin(yes, Morgan is yet another Jazz Messengers alumnus).

This album was recorded in 1966, probably the last year before Jazz descended on what to me are the dark ages of free and fusion (I’ve discussed this extensively on this blog that I barely listen to any Jazz albums between 1966 and 1980 approximately, with some exceptions to confirm the rule).

The very first track is already something I truly love, Ca-Lee-So, in the latin inspired Calypso style. This song, in my humble opinion, beats even the most famous Jazz Calypso of all, Sonny Rollins St. Thomas from the album Saxophone Colossus that was recorded 10 years earlier, and I believe contributed to make this style popular.

Yesterday starts a bit on the cheesy side admittedly. Once you get through the intro, it really gets better, giving time to the individual soloist to dissect the harmony of this classic.

Sunrise, Sunset, is just very solid swing, one that if you’re not tapping your foot to it, you are really missing the point.

Another highlight to me is Nite Flite, with its beautiful modal approach. It is also the longest track on the album, which confirms my theory that the longest tracks are often among the best (they just give more time for the soloists to develop their ideas, in this case particularly to the brilliant Joe Henderson, but McCoyTyner also gets plenty of air time).

Overall, a very aptly named album.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

One Of The Few Fusion Albums I Actually Like: Light As A Feather

Fusion Jazz

Regular readers of my blog will know that my sweet spot in Jazz was typically between 1957 and 1966. Before that, the Swing era really wasn’t my thing, and as of somewhere in 1967 jazz decided to go either towards free jazz (which I can’t stand) or towards fusion. I fully understand why a musical genius like Miles Davis cannot be bothered to record one Kind of Blue after another (even if I wish he did), but unfortunately the 1970s really were mostly a kind of no-go-zone for me Jazz-wise, as I already mentioned in my recent blog post about Keith Jarrett going back to what I like with his Standards Trio in the 1980s.

The only 1970s albums I like are usually by Bill Evans, who basically stuck to his beautiful trio style until the very end, and some of Keith Jarrett’s work, like his solo albums (Köln, Bremen/Lausanne, Sun Bear), or a selection of his European work like My Song).

But let me write here about one of the few albums from that era (that is truly fusion) that I like, not only because we played some of its song of the with my amateur Jazz group when I still had time for that (our favorite was 500 Miles High, the crazy chord changes still drive me nuts when I’m trying to play it now).

Chick Corea & Return To Forever – Light As A Feather (Polydor 1973)

Chick Corea and Return To Forever Light As A Feather 24 96

I’m just noticing that I have had my blog for more than 5 years now and I’ve never written about Chick Corea. Probably just because of the fact that a lot of what he did really is in the fusion genre.

So, who is playing here? Well, Chick obviously, mostly on a Fender Rhodes electrical piano, and then Return To Forever, with Airto Moreira on drums, Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute, and Flora Purim’s beautiful voice. Most of the tracks are Samba inspired, which is the only style of fusion I can listen to (Jazz Rock makes me run away).

This is actually the second album that Corea recorded with Return To Forever, the 1972 predecessor (simple called Return To Forever, recorded by the way by Manfred Eicher who just had started ECM some years earlier), is also very good. I’ll have to review that one another time.

So, what are my highlights here? I’d say, Captain Marvel is really grooving very nicely, but 500 Miles High with it’s 9:14 playing time has even more room to develop, in some of the middle part the percussion just goes crazy.

And then there’s my hidden favorite, Spain, inspired by the Concerto Di Aranjuez (which I wrote about recently), or more likely by Miles Davis adaptation Sketches Of Spain with Gil Evans).

Overall, you should really check this classic out if you’re not aware of it yet.

My rating: 4 stars (the four stars are very personal, I take of one star as fusion still isn’t fully my cup of tea).

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Keith Jarrett: Standards Live

Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio

Happy New Year, dear readers! I assume all of you are keeping your fingers crossed that 2021 will be the year that will make things better, and that we all can attend live concerts again

In the meantime, recorded live concerts are for most of us the only option to recreate that feeling, so I thought it would be a good idea to write about some of these.

As the subtitle of my blog indicates, I’m a big Keith Jarrett fan. And his “Standards” trio with Gary Peacock and Jack de Johnette, remains, after Bill Evans legendary trios, the archetype of the Jazz Piano Trio, one of my favorite art forms.

The Standards Trio was formed semi-formally in 1983, when the trio recorded the album Standards, featuring, guess what, the jazz standards of the Great American Song Book (I’ve reviewed the legendary vol. 2 of this album here). This is not the first time the trio played together, but it was the start of more than a decade of albums, many of them live, of the trio playing together. This came as a return to more accessible music, after the 1970s, which for me Jazz-wise were not very interesting (I really don’t like free jazz, jazz-rock, fusion, or most of the other stuff that came out of that decade that for me was much more interesting on the art-rock side of things).

I’ve already put the fantastic Live at the Blue Note box into my 25 Essential Jazz Albums, and have also reviewed the enjoyable After The Fall from 1998, 15 years after the original Standards album.

Standards Live (ECM 1986)

Keith Jarrett Standards Live Highresaudio DSD remaster

This album was recorded in 1985, two years after Standards, at a live concert in Paris.

It captures all the energy of the trio at the peak of their performance, and unlike After The Fall, is recorded with the excellent recording quality that ECM is well known for.

Thanks to the live format, the trio always has sufficient times to develop the songs, with the average track length being 8-11 minutes. You can hear the fun the trio is having.

We start out with a true standard, the beautiful Stella By Starlight, that Jarrett takes a while to intro solo before the trio kicks in. They follow up with a solid The Wrong Blues, that has absolutely nothing wrong with it. Falling In Love With Love is the archetype of the swinging and grooving together. But the track from this album that I go back over and over again is Too Young To Go Steady, that Jarrett again intros solo. This is 10:11 of pure bliss to me. This is a textbook example of the trio playing truly as one.

The only downside of this, as of pretty much every other Jarrett album is his constant humming and vocalising. I still hope at some point that an AI will be able to filter this out….

My rating: 5 stars (it’s not the absolute best of the Standards trio live albums, the rating is mainly driven by the sublime To Young To Go Steady, but it id still so much better to my ears than so much other music that’s out there).

You can find it here (Highresaudio, audiophile DSD remaster) and here (Qobuz)

GoGo Penguin Live From Studio 2 – Excellent

GoGo Penguin

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of the UK trio GoGo Penguin, that mixes the acoustic piano trio with the sounds of contemporary electronic music very successfully (see my reviews of Ocean In A Drop, Man Made Object, an older live gig in Zurich, and the only album I wasn’t particularly fond of, A Humdrum Star).

In spite of Covid, GoGo Penguin this year has managed not only to release a new studio album (which I loved), but is now even giving us a “live” EP. Well, it is played live, but actually from the famous Abbey Road Studios, so without an audience around, given the circumstances.

GoGo Penguin – Live At Studio 2 (BlueNote 2020)

GoGo Penguin Live From Studio 2 BlueNote 2020 24 96

Audience or not, the energy in this album is incredible.

This video of one of the songs, Petit_a, should give you a good idea what to expect.

My favorite song from this EP is Atomised, from their 2020 self-titled album. This really epitomizes what I like about them, the powerful grooves, the ability to take a simple fragment arpeggio and turn it into an entire song, and the mesmerizing energy.

Check it out, you won’t be disappointed. And please remember, if you want to support artists in this challenging year 2020, do buy their music!

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Less than 4 weeks until Christmas – Need another Christmas Jazz recommendation?

Stacey Kent

Stacey Kent is a Jazz singer that I believe to be more popular and better known in Europe than her native US.

I haven’t explicitly mentioned her on this blog (she does feature on Jazz Loves Disney that I reviewed previously). I quite like her, but these days I’m not listening to a lot of vocal jazz any more, with only few exceptions.

That said, she has done quite a lot of recordings you should definitely check out.

Including this one, if you start to be in the mood for more Christmas music.

Christmas In The Rockies (EP, Candid Productions 2020)

Stacey Kent Christmas In The Rockies 24/96

Don’t be scared off by the extremely cheesy cover (OMG; these fonts, the colours), this is actually a quite enjoyable performance of Christmas standards.

Note that this is only an EP, you get a total of four tracks.

You start with a very nice, if rather straightforward Sleigh Ride, going through the always beautiful Christmas Time Is Here, a really nice version of Winter Wonderland, and to wrap it all up, my favorite, The Christmas Song (see below)

Normally, I’d always recommend you buy albums, as on streaming revenues no regular artist can reasonably survive (particularly in Covid times when the live revenues are mostly gone).

However, my recommendation would be rather that you buy one of Kent’s other albums instead (check out Breakfast On The Morning Train for example), and add this album to your Spotify or Qobuz Christmas streaming playlist, as I find it a tad expensive for 4 tracks only.

Nevertheless, a solid recommendation for the next 4 weeks!

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Melody Gardot’s New Album Sunset In The Blue – A Review (sort of)

Melody Gardot

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a big fan of Melody Gardot. She’s the kind of Jazz(ish) singer that is somewhat different to the many other singers. Let’s be clear, she’s no Cecile McLorin Salvant nor Lady Day, but she has a very particular style and voice, and I’ve praised a lot of her previous albums on this blog (see here and here among others).

So I was very excited when her latest album came out about a week ago.

Sunset In The Blue (Decca 2020)

Melody Gardot Sunset In The Blue Decca 2020 24 96

The cover this time is simply abstract, not even any text on there, and presumably less controversial than the cover of her last live album.

On her previous non-live album, Currency Of Man from 2015, Gardot went to a much more soul influenced style. This new album now is nearly in its entirety a long list of latin ballads, including strings (real ones, not the synthesizer variety). On several tracks Gardot even sings in what is presumably Portuguese.

By the way, given the current Covid situation, it seems that putting this album together was the logistical nightmare you’d imagine with musicians stuck in different parts on the planet. Nevertheless, they pulled it off.

Now I must admit I do like my occasional latin and string inspired ballad (it’s clearly better in my opinion than Diana Krall’s recent But Beautiful), but it is not something that I’m super passionate about. There is the occasional faster samba-type track like Ninguém, Ninguém, or more traditional ballads like From Paris With Love; but you get it, I’m not blown away.

Gardot’s beautiful voice, many original compositions, and the well done arrangements still make this a worthwhile album, but it wouldn’t be my preferred Gardot album by far.

Until we come to the penultimate track, Moon River. I’ve admitted previously that I love this song, it makes me sentimental every time I hear it. So far, Sarah McKenzie’s version was my preferred one, but this could really become my new favorite.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)