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: 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)