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)

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)

Tord Gustavsen’s The Other Side – Delightful

Tord Gustavsen

I’ve previously written about the rich Jazz scene in Scandinavia, and particularly about Tord Gustavsen, reviewing his album The Ground here.

Gustavsen’s trio has a very particular style, minimal, melodic, and fascinating.

So I was very excited when I saw that Gustavsen’s latest album was just released, and thanks to ECM finally allowing streaming, I could sample it immediately.

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (ECM 2018)

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Other Side (24/96) ECM 2018

I wasn’t a universal  fan of some of the albums Gustavsen released in the last years, but with his latest album, I’m fully back on board!

The first thing you notice is the cover art, while still in the typical ECM abstract art style, they’ve changed from the dark blue tones of most of the former albums to a bright orange. Does this mean the music is more orange as well?

Well, actually not. This is very typical Gustavsen style, very much reminding me of what I liked so much about The Ground.  Let’s take as an example urack 3 of the album, Re-Melt. It starts with a syncopated rhythm by Jarle Vespestad on drums, and Sigurd Hole on bass. Gustavsen joins a bit later, weaving a beautiful, subdued melody over the rhythm. None of the music on this album is ever over the top, but it will always be one thing: very atmospheric. It always just unfolds slowly, over time.

Recording quality, as usual on ECM, is very good, actually in this particular case it is again quite spectacular.

Check out this album. It may not be for everyone, but if you like this minimalist Nordics style, you really should not hold back!

My rating: 4 stars

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

 

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)

ECM Now Available For Streaming – And A Review of Manu Katchés Album Neighbourhood

ECM Records

ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) is one of the most legendary Jazz (and classical) labels out there. Founded by Manfred Eicher back in 1969, it really has been able to tailor a very specific profile.

Having world class artists like Keith Jarrett obviously helped, but today you could really argue that ECM has a kind of “house” sound. The immediately recognizable abstract, typically dark album covers make ECM very distinctive.

And we are not only talking about Jazz, the album has done some fantastic classical (and contemporary classical) recordings as well, e.g. with the fantastic Andras Schiff.

You will find quite a number of ECM albums on my blog (just enter ECM in the free text search on the sidebar), or check out my 25 Essential Jazz albums, which features 2 ECM albums.

Streaming

I personally see the major arrival of streaming with two different viewpoints.

From a consumer perspective, the possibility to access music for a “flat rate” in an unlimited way is just fantastic. The big platforms such as Spotify offer more than 30M titles. Remember the old days when there were record stores, and having more than 250 albums was considered a huge library (not surprising, given that one would have spent typically more than $3,000-5,000 to assemble such a physical treasure). Today, $120 per year gets you full access. I’ve personally joined the streaming bandwagon quite late, only about 2 years ago (around the time when I started this blog).

Streaming for me now is a fantastic tool to discover new music. All new albums just show up online, and you can sample as much as you want.

Now, what are the downsides?

First of all, streaming really made the concept of an “album” pretty redundant. Admittedly, the iTunes story that for the first time allowed the purchase of individual “songs” (which is by the way a completely inappropriate name for a piece of classical music, I prefer the term “Track”), but basically, since Spotify the album has often been replaced by individualized playlists.

True, the concept of a “mix tape” (remember those) pre-dates the idea of a playlist, but these were pretty hard work to get done.

Now, is the demise of the album a bad thing? Maybe not. In Jazz, suprisingly, the album still seems to be highly relevant, and in classical music the “album” concept never made a lot of sense anyhow, forcing the record companies to sometimes randomly bundle classical works just to fill the 70+ minutes of capacity. I have more versions e.g. of the Academic Festival Overture that I care for, as this was (to this day, see here) a typical “filler” piece.

Secondly, streaming typically means compressed sound quality. The MP3 standard invented to squeeze more music into less memory space is also pretty much universal now these days for streaming, which means quite a lot of musical information simply gets thrown out. This doesn’t matter if you listen with $5 Apple earbuds, but if you have a good music system, you will be missing out. To this day, there are only two streaming services, Qobuz (France) and TIDAL (US), that stream in lossless CD quality or even higher (MQA for Tidal, up to 24/192 for Qobuz). Unfortunately, except for some hifi nerds like me, nobody cares about this any more, therefore, both TIDAL and Qobuz still are losing money.

Thirdly, and much more important, it is still very much unclear how artists are supposed to live of streaming. Artists, depending on the streaming service, get amounts in the cent range of even less per play. That may be ok if you’re called Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but for a small Jazz or classical artist, the revenues generated here are literally just peanuts, and much less attractive than selling albums.

Therefore, on top of my spend for the streaming service of choice (Qobuz in my case), I also tend to purchase those albums that I really care about to support the artist, and you really should do as well, if you want the artist to survice and continue to create the beautiful music we all crave.

In summary, I can understand why ECM (like some other labels, e.g. Hyperion) decided for years not to make their content available for streaming. Well, they’ve finally changed their mind, citing as the main reason the fact that the first priority is that the music should be heard.

Well, we can all agree on that, but let’s not forget, artists need to make a living!

Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (ECM 2005)

After this very long parenthesis, let’s use this occasion to dig a bit into the ECM back catalogue.

And let’s start with an excellent Jazz album by French drummer Manu Katché, Neighbourhood.Manu Catch Neighbourhood ECM 2005 24/96,

Katché (with origins in France and the Ivory Coast) actually isn’t your typical Jazz drummer. He is an outstanding studio musician that has played a lot of pop/rock as well.

The first time I ever saw him was admittedly in a much more “low-brow” context, when I was watching Nouvelle Star, the French version of Pop IdolAmerican Idol on French television.

But this album is 100% Jazz. You would have thought so when you look at the line-up: Tomasz Stanko! Jan Garbarek! Marcin Wasilewski! Slawomir Kurkiewicz! (for one of my favorite albums of the two latter, check out my post about My Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop Songs).

It starts extremely strong, with November 99, my favorite song of the album. Wasilewski starts a dreamy piano improvisation, when Katché joins him, followed by Kurkiewicz on bass. You immediately get in the fantastic slow groove that makes this song so hypnotic. I can listen to this song over and over again, and never get tired. Stanko (trumpet) and Garbarek (saxophone) don’t even feature on this song, it is a pure trio performance (maybe that’s why I like it so much…).

The horns only get to join in track number 2, Number One. You’ll immediately recognize the signature Garbarek sound (e.g. from the great Keith Jarrett album My Song, see also here). Stanko joins later. And again, in this song, Katchés nearly hypnotic drive is really what makes this album so special.

Another favorite of mine is the ballad February Sun, where Stanko sounds better than Chet Baker.

Overall, a highly enjoyable album. Check it out (and buy it if you like it!)

My rating: 4 stars (the opening track is 5 stars to me)

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