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)

Keith Jarrett’s Last (?) Solo Album? The Budapest Concert

Keith Jarrett’s Solo Live Concerts

Keith Jarrett is without doubt the most important solo jazz pianist out there. $

He’s been touring the world for nearly 50 years now with his solo concerts, his 1975 Köln Concert still holds many records from a sales perspective, and I’ve already reviewed a number of his live solo albums on this blog (Munich, Paris, A Multitude Of Angels, Bregenz München, La Scala). I’ve even listed his Bremen Lausanne in My 25 Essential Jazz albums.

In fact, it was me attending a Jarrett solo live concert in Lucerne in 2015 that got me to start this blog in the first place, more than 5 years ago now.

So it was with great sadness that I recently saw in the New York Times that Keith Jarrett may never be able to play again due to severe health issues. What a loss, if true. I sincerely hope he recovers, as other pianists have after similar situations.

So, could this album that was just released today be his final live album ever?

Budapest Concert (ECM 2020)

Keith Jarrett Budapest Concert ECM 2020 24/96

This concert was recorded on July 3, 2016, in Budapest obviously, only some days after the previously released Munich 2016 album that was released last fall, and a bit more than a year after I saw him live myself.

The album lasts nearly 90 minutes, structured as often in his later albums in shorter “parts”, a total of 12 (in Roman numerals) this time, with two encores.

I’m not going to describe each part in detail here, I’m not sure that would make for a very enjoyable reading. I’m just going to flag some of my favorite parts, which are II, a slower improvisation, V, again a slower meandering around melodic impressions, and VII, the most dreaming part of the entire album.

That said, for me, the true highlights are the the two encores, Answer Me, that was previously released as a teaser (and was also part of his encores in Munich), and even more importantly, It’s a Lonesome Old Town (also performed in Munich). I could just spend entire days listening to these simple but very deep improvisations (I’m a simple guy, I like melodies).

Overall, to put things into context, this isn’t my preferred Jarrett live album, it is not an essential album if you’re not a hardcore Jarrett fan like me. I’ll obviously buy it anyhow.

And let’s all hope that this won’t be the last solo album he’ll ever record.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

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)

Rémi Geniet Plays Beethoven Sonatas – A Review

Beethoven’s piano sonatas

I haven’t written about Beethoven’s piano sonatas yet on this blog, except for mentioning Igor Levit’s beautiful rendition of the late piano sonatas here.

Why? No idea. It is such a massive body of work, 32 sonatas, no really weak stuff in there, the late sonatas being particularly challenging. How do you attack such a mountain, or more precisely mountain range?

Rémi Geniet

Rémi Geniet, a young French pianist, must have asked himself the same question. His answer is an album that covers 4 sonatas from the very early op. 2 to the very late op. 110.

Who is Rémi Geniet? A young (born 1992) French pianist, who released a beautiful Bach album two years ago that was highly praised. He also won several competitions including the Horowitz International Competition in Kiew.

Geniet Plays Beethoven Sonatas

Rémi Geniet Beethoven Piano Sonatas Mirare 2017 24/96

From Bach to Beethoven. A small step? Well not really, actually anything but.  But Geniet manages this challenge beautifully.

You get a mix from Beerhovens sonata cycle, as mentioned above from the very early sonata no. 2 to the penultimate sonata no. 31.

The really famous sonata here is the “Moonshine“, no. 14, probably the piano piece that even non classical listeners will have heard at some point. Attacking such an earworm is obviously tricky, we all have some form of reference in our head. And what references, from Schnabel, to Arrau, to Brendel, or more recently Paul Lewis or Ronald Brautigam.

How does he compare against such great names of the piano? Well, actually, quite well.
Take the first movement. This, if done badly, can drown in kitsch. No kitsch here, you get  simplicty, very clean playing , no “fuzz”. But actually, this makes the entire experience nevertheless extremely intense.

He takes extremely technically challengingthird movement (Presto agitato) breathtakingly fast, but with extreme precision. Again, this is truly impressive.

All this really comes without neglecting musical substance. Take for example the sonata no. 31. Beethoven’s late sonatas, like his late string quartets, are works of extreme intellectual substance. You simply cannot gloss over them. Pianists typically only tackle them later in the career. But here, similar to Levit mentioned above, Geniet just goes for it, and very successfully.

Overall rating: 4 stars (at certain moments of playing I’d give a 5 star, but there is so much competition out there in the Beethoven space, that it is hard to consistently outperform all the piano legends).

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (HDtracks)

My Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2016

My Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2016

Following my Top 5 Classical albums of 2016, here’s my take on Jazz this year.

2016 was tricky with regards to Jazz albums. Actually, usually I build these top 5 lists simply from my 5 star reviews. The thing is, in 2016 I only had one single 5 star Jazz album, GoGoPenguin’s latest release. All others are “only” 4 stars, but still I can wholeheartedly recommend all of them!

 

Brad Mehldau Trio: Blues And Ballads

Brad Mehldau Trio Blues and Ballads 24 88 Nonesuch 2016

I mentioned it before, I’m not always a fan of Brad Mehldau.

I have The Art Of The Trio vol. 3 in my 25 essential Jazz albums and find it to be a true gem of piano jazz, but run away from many of his more recent releases (YMMV).

This one again is really to my taste, he goes back to his roots, and does it well!

See my initial review here.

GoGoPenguin – ManMade Object

GoGo Penguin Man Made Object 24/44 Blue Note 2016

As mentioned above, the only 5 star album in this list. As you can see in my initial review, this is probably the true successor to Esbjörn Svenssons trio, bringing the Jazz trio into the age of Electronica.

Keith Jarrett – A Multitude of Angels

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

A new Keith Jarrett solo album is always an event, even if in this case we’re talking about previously unreleased material from 20 years ago. As you can see in my recent review, I really like it.

Paolo Fresu Richard Galliano Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum II

Paolo Fresu Richard Galliano Jan Lundgren Mare Nostrum II (24/88) ACT Music

Check out my review here. Essentially, if you like the accordion, get this. If you don’t like the accordion, at least check it out. It is worth it.

 

Thierry Maillard – Il Canto Delle Montagne

Thierry Maillard Andre Ceccarelli Dominique di Piazza Il Canto Delle Montagne 24/88 2016 Ilona Records

See my review here, beautiful trio jazz from France.

Your turn now.

As you can see, I was struggling  a bit to find truly oustanding Jazz albums this year. I’m sure there’s stuff I must have missed. Please do point me to albums that I may not have seen or heard that you’d recommend in 2016!

 

You can find the albums here:

Brad Mehldau:  here (Qobuz) and here (Nonesuch’s own online store)

Keith Jarrett: here (Qobuz) or here (Amazon)

Paolo Fresu et al:here (Qobuz)

Thierry Maillard: here (Qobuz)

 

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)