My Top 3 Jazz Albums of 2019

Happy New Year

Wishing all of you a fantastic 2020!

I meant to complement my Top of the Year 2019 article I wrote on classical music with a similar one for Jazz. I didn’t get to finish that last year, so at least it is the first thing I do in the still very fresh year of 2020. Hope all of you had a nice New Year’s Eve last night.

Why is this post called “Top 3” and not “Top 5” as I typically do? Well, for one I did review significantly less albums in 2019 than in the years before, due to very extensive business travel.

Furthermore however, I find less and less new Jazz albums that truly excite me. Not sure if it is the Jazz scene, or my taste is evolving. Anyhow, let’s get to it.

Keith Jarrett – Munich 2016

Keith Jarrett Munich 2016 ECM 2019 24 96

Any new Keith Jarrett solo album is an event, but this is a particularly nice one. I’m slightly biased as me attending the 2015 concert in Lucerne that was part of the same tour triggered me to start this blog in the first place Highly recommended. You’ll find my original review of Munich 2016 here.

GoGo Penguin – Ocean in a Drop

GoGo Penguin Ocean In A Drop Music For A Film Blue Note 2019

Ocean In A Drop is a very special album. Not even originally intended to be released, it really captures a very special atmosphere of an improvised film soundtrack. I still haven’t seen the movie it refers to, but keep going back to the album on a regular basis.

Triosence: scorpio rising

Triosence: Scorpio Rising 2019 24 96

I’ve written about Triosence previously (here and here), but never got to formally review this album. They are a relatively unknown group from Germany, but their style is very much to my taste. So this may be the most subjective of my recommendations. Triosence are all about melody. Therefore, some may consider them a bit too mainstream. So check them out before you buy, but if you like modern trio jazz, they are a worthy discovery. You’ll find it here (Qobuz)

So, over to you, enlighten me! I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of good new releases in 2019 that should have been mentioned here. What would you recommend I check out?

Wishing you again a Happy New Year and thank you for all the great feedback and discussions we had in 2019!

Finally A New Keith Jarrett Solo Live Album – Munich 2016

Keith Jarrett Live Concerts

Keith Jarrett is without doubt one of the most important, if not THE most important artists alive today in the space of solo piano improvisation.

Seeing one of his live concerts finally triggered me to start this blog now more than 4 years ago, and I’ve already reviewed a lot of his live albums (always on ECM) as well, including Paris, A Multitude Of Angels, Bregenz München, La Scala, and Bremen Lausanne.

Each of these albums is worth having, my ratings typically are either 4 or 5 stars.

So I was obviously very happy when Jarrett finally released a new (well, 3 years old) solo concert recording again.

Keith Jarrett – Munich 2016 (ECM 2019)

This album was recorded live in Munich in July 2016, about one year after my “own” live experience in Lucerne, and it has a very similar feel.

Jarrett has moved away from the very long improvisations of the Köln concert era to shorter pieces, simply titled “Part”. The concert is split into 12 parts, with roman numerals, plus two encores.

Don’t be afraid by the slightly atonal start in Part I, there is so much more to come.

Part V for example is are the kind of melodic improvisations that fans of the Köln concert (including me) are just loving so much

Part VI and VIII are yet another of the slowly flowing parts, 5 minutes of absolute bliss.

In part IX, Jarrett all over sudden starts a boogie woogie. For most other artist, this would make me run away. Not so with Jarrett, here it is just 3 minutes of a lot of fun, which he’s clearly having.

I personally am not such a big fan of when Jarrett goes much more crazy like in part VII, but these wilder improvisations are typically short.

And I’m so happy to report, that nearly 20 years after La Scala, Jarrett goes back to Somewhere Over The Rainbow as his final encore. And in a way, this improvisation is even better. It must be my sentimental side, but I just love this song.

So in total, this album is an absolute joy!

My rating: 5 stars

You can get it here (Qobuz)

One of the best Jarrett Solo albums: Paris Concert

Keith Jarrett’s Solo Albums

At some point on this blog I had said I was planning to review all of Jarrett’s solo recordings here.

Well, I haven’t written about them in a long time. Nicely enough, a reader comment, inquiring about a live concert by Jarrett she heard on the radio a long time ago, brought me back on track.

I’m still not sure, but most likely the album she is looking for is one of Jarrett’s best ever solo piano recordings, Bremen/Lausanne, actually one of my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Therefore, let’s talk about another excellent Jarrett solo album I’ve had for a long time:

Keith Jarrett: Paris Concert (ECM 1990)

Keith Jarrett: Paris Concert ECM 1990

This is not one of Jarrett’s longest solo albums, containing just a single concert. It mainly consists of one impressive continuous improvisation of more than 38 minutes, simply titled “October 17, 1988”. 

The concert starts sounding like Jarrett is actually doing a Bach concert, he plays something that could be a slow Präludium, indicating that Jarrett clearly knows his counterpoint. 

This is not totally surprising, Jarrett was actually playing a lot of Bach at the time, e.g. his recording of the Goldberg Variations was released just one year later after this concert was recorded in 1988 at Salle Pleyel. (Side note: I’m not such a fan of Jarrett’s classical recordings on their own, but am very happy how they influenced his Jazz playing).

About 9 to 10 minutes in this evolves into a more hypnotic part, with the left hand in a steady bass pattern over which the right hand freely improvises.

Later, around the 20 minutes mark, the music becomes increasingly minimal, but probably even more beautiful and mesmerizing. He quickly evolves back into a much more powerful improvisation.

After the main course you get two smaller pieces, simply called The Wind and Blues, both of which are highly enjoyable.

The only downside of this album is Jarrett’s really annoying tendency to hum along with his music. I sincerely hope one day artificial intelligence will be good enough to remove his singing from his otherwise fantastic albums.

This is clearly one of his best ever solo efforts, and should be in every Jarrett lover’s collection.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack De Johnette – After The Fall – A Review

The Keith Jarrett Trio

Having Keith Jarrett in the sub-title of my blog, I obviously had to get excited.

Wow, a new recording of the legendary Keith Jarrett Trio?

Well, “new” is relative, we’re actually talking about a live recording from 1998 in New Jersey, that slept in some drawer for now about 20 years.

1998 wasn’t a bad time for Jarrett’s legendary combo, with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack De Johnette on drums. Standards in Norway, one of my favorite live albums ever, was recorded just a year later, so, musically, my expectations were high.

This was also an important moment for Jarrett himself, as he just recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which stopped him from playing for nearly two years in 1996-1998. In the liner notes, Jarrett calls this concert a “scary experiment”, as it was his first live appearance since the Italian solo concerts (that were also just recently released as A Multitude Of Angels, see my review here).

 

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette – After The Fall (ECM 2018)

 

Keith Jarrett Gary Peacock Jack DeJohnette After The Fall ECM 2018 24 44

And to make it clear, musically, this album is all you could ask for. The tracks on average 8-9 min longs, which is very enjoyable, as the musicians really get to develop the material and interplay.

This is a “double album” (a term that feels a bit silly in the days of downloads and streaming, but in reality it means you get a total of 1h45 of music and pay about the price of two regular albums should you decide to purchase it, so still has some form of meaning).

To mention some individual songs, Scrapple from the Apple is a very groovy bop track. Old Folks is beautiful ballad. And we get standards like Autumn Leaves with very enjoyable solos (unfortunately, like in so many concerts, Jarrett cannot stop himself from “singing” along. If any digital company could ever invent the AI-driven Keith Jarrett/Glenn Gould humming filter, i’d be extremely grateful).

So, where is the but?

Well, very similar to his recently released solo album A Multitude Of Angels, this album wasn’t professionally recorded, but was basically using Jarretts own DAT (Digital Audio Tape recorder).

And as much as I didn’t mind the shoe-box sound created by this recording set-up for Angels, for a trio where you need to better capture the nuances and interplay of three instruments, I find the sound quality a bit off-putting (and this in spite of the fact that this was remastered at the legendary Rainbow Studios in Oslo).

So, in conclusion, as a hard-core Jarrett fan, this is a must have. If you don’t mind the poor sound quality, I can recommend it as well.

However, if you don’t yet own most of his catalogue, there are many other live albums that benefit from the outstanding sound quality that ECM normally is famous for, like Standards in Norway, or Live At Blue Note from 1994 (one of my 25 Essential Jazz Albums), that you may want to check out first.

My rating: 4 stars (1 star taken off for sound quality)

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Highresaudio)

A Multitude Of Angels – A review of the “new” Keith Jarrett solo album recorded by Jarrett himself

Ah, yet another blog post that starts with me complaining that I’m not writing often enough. I guess you don’t care about my excuses, so let me just say I really try to improve the frequency of my writing. So let’s stop whining and get into it.

A New Keith Jarrett Recording?

So, a new Keith Jarrett album! Out of the blue (at least to me)! Very nice surprise obviously for a blog that has Jarrett in the sub-title.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I personally find the title quite cheesy (although Jarrett is very serious about it in the liner notes), and the cover even more so (which is sad given that I do quite like the general ECM sober cover style).

But let’s face it, you won’t buy this album for the title nor the cover, but for the music.

And we’re talking about A LOT of music. Should you decide to buy this on CD (do people still do this?), you’ll get 5 of them, should you decide to download, you may initially be disappointed to get only 12 files, but you’re still getting 4h57 for your money!

A Multitude Of Angels (ECM 2016)

Keith Jarrett A Multitude Of Angels Modena Ferrara Torino Genova Solo Concerts ECM 2016

So where is this album all over sudden coming from? Well unfortunately it doesn’t comprise any recent concerts, like the one in Lucerne I attended a year and a half ago (I know they were recording that, so I hope it will eventually be released).

In this case, we’re talking about 20 year old material. These are live recordings from four concerts in Northern Italy, as you see from the cover specifically Modena, Ferrara, Torino, and Genova, all in October 1996.

We were lucky, at the time, Jarrett hat a DAT recorder (one of the earliest portable digital recording techniques) and some microphones with him and was taping his own concerts.

In the liner notes, Jarrett explains that he’s listened to these recordings many times and claims them to be “a pinnacle in his career”. Lucky for us, we finally get to share this pleasure.

How do you describe 5 hours of improvised music?

Well to make it short, I don’t even try. Let me just summarize my impressions: These are indeed beautiful recordings. Are these to my ears the pinnacle of Jarrett’s career? I personally wouldn’t go as far. We’re still in the “old days” of Jarrett’s concerts with long 40 min uninterupted playing, very shortly before he had to take a break for health reasons. While there really is a lot to love here, my only point of criticism would be that sometimes I’d have liked a bit more stylistic variability.

So if you’re a first time Jarrett solo concert buyer, and you won’t get the cheap price on Qobuz (see last paragraph), you may want to go for some other concerts first, like the legendary Köln, or Bremen Lausanne. But if you like Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts, this one is clearly one to go for.

My rating: 4 stars.

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Amazon)

 

3 Hours Of Timeless Beauty – Keith Jarrett Bregenz München

What do Bregenz and Munich have in common? Not a lot on paper, the nice Austrian town on Lake Constance and the Bavarian capital, in spite of the fact that they are only about 2h away from each other by car.

So why bother writing about them here? Well, you’ll have guessed it already, Keith Jarrett gave one of his famous solo concerts in both places.

And as promised previously, I plan to eventually review all the Jarrett solo concert recordings (fun fact, it’s been nearly 6 month ago that I attended one myself for the first time and started this blog, see my post here)

Bregenz München (ECM 1981/2013)

These recordings date from 1981, i.e. 6 years after the famous Köln Concert. Jarrett by then had developed a clear style for his concerts, and these recordings show that he developed already a certain maturity.

Keith Jarrett Concerts Bregenz München ECM

Bregenz comes first: Part 1 starts swinging, with nearly a ragtime feel occasionally. After 10 minutes he slows down, into a more melancholic mood.

I just love the flowing passage around 15:00, that turns much heavier around 17:30. At around 19 he become more rhythmic, using the piano’s body regularly as percussion.

Part II keeps the rhythm, driven by the left hand, and the percussion elements. All this at a faster pace. At some time we even get Calypso elements.

Bregenz Heartland is one of my favorites on this album. As said before I’m a sucker for melodies. And luckily Jarrett on his encores nearly always delivers.

And the good news is: Munich gets even better. This concert is longer, in 4 parts, and 2 encores, including another one title Heartland, again astonishingly beautiful. I’m going to spare you a more detailed description, you get that I like it very much.

Keith Jarrett has a long history of playing classical music, and you can hear it here.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable album and very much worth having.

My rating: 4 stars (compared to the very high standards of Jarrett’s solo concerts, actually I’m on the edge of giving this 5 stars, and may revisit my rating after formally reviewing more of his solo albums, but so far, I’d probably still prefer Köln, Bremen Lausanne, and Sun Bear).

You can find it here (Highresaudio) or here (HDtracks)

Keith Jarrett: La Scala

Keith Jarrett’s Live Albums

Keith Jarrett and his solo piano concerts are legendary.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, his Köln Concert is the best-selling solo and piano album in the history, with more than 3.5M albums sold. This may not be much by Taylor Swift standards, but for Jazz, where albums usually selling a some thousands of albums, this number is just mind-boggling.

And what is probably even more mind-boggling is that the Köln Concert is not a one hit wonder, but Jarrett has turned out dozens of solo concert albums in the last thirty years, and usually nearly all of them are worth having.

I’ve started this blog writing about the lucky chance I had to see Jarrett live earlier this year, and it is truly an outstanding experience.

In my 25 Essential Jazz albums post, I’ve promised to myself that I’ll eventually review all of his live solo albums.

This will be a challenging task, but well, you’ve got to have ambitions in life. Let’s see how long this journey is going to take.

La Scala (ECM 1997)

Every journey has got to start somewhere. I rather randomly chose La Scala for a start. Why? Well, the cover is beautiful, and it is probably one of the lesser known albums.

La Scala was recorded (you would have guessed) in Milan’s famous opera house, in 1995, and released in 1997. Apparently, this is the first time a solo jazz concert was hosted in these illustrious walls.

Keith Jarrett La Scala ECM 1997

The formal structure of the concert is very simple, you have “Part I” (approx 45 min) and Part II, adding 28 more minutes.

Part I evolves very slowly over time. it reminds me of a large river maeandering slowly and majestically. You have time to let your mind wander around while listening to this. In a way, this nearly becomes meditation music, but this is Jarrett, so you can rest assured that you won’t get bored, instead you just keep floating with the river.

Part II starts a bit randomly. This is the style I personally don’t really like that much, I just get lost without a clear melody and rhythm. Well luckily for me he doesn’t overdo the randomness, and structure reemerges rather quickly after around 4 minutes or so. Unlike part I, this part has some much faster flows, and while part I was focused on chords, here you often just get a chain of individual notes. Around 10 min in, the character changes again, chords reappear, and a melodic structure reemerges.

And in my personal opinion, he’s really saving the best for last. The encore is “Over the Rainbow”, in a very simple, minimalistic approach. I’ve mentioned previously how much I love this song, and I’m not disappointed here either.

My rating: 4 stars (not the most essential of Jarrett’s solo albums, but we’re really talking from a very high standard here, this is still better than 95% of other solo piano albums out there).

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (HDTracks)