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)

 

Recommended: Julia Hülsmann Trio – Imprint

The Jazz Piano Trio

I’ve said it before, we really do live in the Golden Age of the Jazz Piano trio (actually, I’ve even started a discussion thread on this prior to starting this blog, see here (http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f15-music-general/are-we-living-golden-age-jazz-piano-trio-18603/)

Women in Jazz?

Are we living in the Golden Age for female Jazz musicians? Probably not yet. Traditionally, in Jazz women were pretty much set to the role of singer. If they could play the piano, even better (e.g. Nina Simone, Diana Krall, or more recently Sarah McKenzie), all fine, but go find a female instrumentalist, and you’ll have a much harder time. Carla Bley, Hiromi, Maria Schneider, and that’s were my list (from memory) ends.

Hold on, there is one more (actually 2-3 more, watch this space for future articles):

Julia Hülsmann

Julia Hülsmann, German, is one of these exceptions (and actually, has studies with Maria Schneider in the past).

Her regular trio is featuring two other excellent musicians, Mark Muellbauer on bass and Heinrich Köbberling on drums.

I discovered her during the release concert of her album Imprint at Moods in Zurich, back in 2011, and this album to this day remains my favorite one of her.

Since then I’ve also seen her play live with Theo Bleckmann music from her latest release of Kurt Weill music (to be reviewed another time) at Nochtspeicher in Hamburg.

Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (ECM 2011)

Julia Hülsmann Trio Imprint ECM 2011

Imprint is her second album on ECM after the equally exciting The End Of Summer. 

My favorite tracks are Grand Canyon, with a great rhythmic drive,  Zahlen bitte, which starts with a great drum solo by Köbberling, and Ulmenwall. The album is typical ECM house style, very lyrical, and very well recorded.

My rating: 4 stars

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

Easy Living: My Favorite Enrico Rava Album

Enrico Rava

In my previous post on Enrico Pieranunzi I was asked about other Italian artists I like, and José in his comment listed among others Enrico Rava. This is what triggered this blog post.

Well, first of all, my initial answer is that Rava has a beautiful sound, a very soft, dreamy voice, that I really like.

With regards to his recorded albums, I’m more torn, as I don’t have a single album with Rava in the lead of which I love every single track. I’ll explain further below why.

That said, without doubt Rava is one of the leading figures of the Italian Jazz scene.

I have about 10 albums of Rava in my collection, and would like to present here what overall is my favorite Rava album: Easy Living

Easy Living (ECM 2003)

Why this particular album?

Well, first of all, Easy Living is one of my favorite standards (I originally fell in love with Sarah Vaughan singing it). And Rava does a gorgeous version of this song here.

Enrico Rava Easy Living ECM 2003

Second, Stefano Bollani.

I’ve previously written about him and how much I appreciate his piano playing, and he’s also one of the factors why I particularly appreciate this album. Take his solo on track 8, Hornette and the Drum Things and you’ll understand why.

Track 1, Chromosomi, is already a great start. It sets the scene for an album that is generally meditative, dreamy, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning like this one (as I write it, it has started to snow outside, and this song sounds like the perfect soundtrack for watching the  falling snowflakes).

Now to explain, as already mentioned above, what I don’t like about certain Rava songs, let’s take the example of Traveling Night (track 7). I’ve written time and time over again, how much I need melodies. My brain is just wired that way.

I actually like Rosario Bonaccorso’s bass solo, and then Roberto Gatto and Stefano chiming in the same mood. But then I get lost in rhythmic and harmony changes, and my little brain never finds its way out again, it just feels to random.

I’ve had this discussion with Jazz musicians, and for some of them, when it gets more random and adventurous, this is when music really starts getting interesting, for some others, this is when it starts to lose interest. I’m not arguing quality here, but just personal preference.

One special thing to mention on this album is the beautiful complementarity between Rava and Gianluca Petrella on trombone.

This album is recorded by ECM, and therefore, as usual, the recording quality is really good.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

 

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)

Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Ground – Atmospheric Trio Jazz from Norway

ECM

Enough ink has been spilled on Manfred Eicher’s outstanding Jazz label from Munich, Germany. He obviously was smart enough to land a superstar like Keith Jarrett, but they’ve been such an important driving force for contemporary jazz (and classical music) that you owe it to yourself to check out each new ECM release. To be fair, for me their output is hit and miss, on average every 2nd album I just love, every other is not my cup of tea. But I never regret checking them out.

Tord Gustavsen

Like Helge Lien (reviewed here), Tord Gustavsen comes from Norway. That, plus the fact that they both won an important Norwegian Jazz award, is probably the only apparent commonality between the two (plus the fact that they both have played with Silje Nergaard at some point, probably a mandatory rite of passage for Norwegian jazz pianists).

Lien is much more energetic, and experimental. Gustavsen in his arrangements in a way represents the typical ECM house sound, atmospheric, sometimes a bit detached, and extremely well recorded.

He has released a number of albums, mostly in trio, but also more recently with Saxophone, however, this 2004-5 album remains my favorite album of his.

The Ground

The Ground was Gustavsen’s 2nd ECM album, after the equally beautiful Changing Places, which gave him quite some visibility.

His style is really the opposite of what was developed by Esbjörn Svensson Trio, his neighbor from Sweden. It is very minimalistic, laid back. He has been called “the Satie of Jazz”. This is music to savor late at night, with a glass of single malt (I’d recommend a Caol Ila 12).

Critics around the globe mainly loved this album, calling the music “shimmering” (the Village Voice), and quoting the ” liquid, flowing quality of his motion” (AllAboutJazz). You did find some critical voices as well, usually finding this a little bit too laid back, or some even called it boring.

Tord Gustavsen Trio The Ground 24 96 ECM 2005

Well, obviously if you want high energy jazz that brings you to the edges of contemporary creativity, look elsewhere. But if you, like me, appreciate the ECM sound, this album is really worth checking out.

Actually, I’m a big fan of the very minimalistic and modern ECM cover art in general, but on this particular album they really nailed it. The blue, unfocused feeling you get from the cover is exactly what the music will do with you. You’ll get lost in space and time (the Caol Ila certainly helping….).

Note that the recording quality of this album is truly outstanding, so if you have a good hi-fi, you’ll enjoy it twice as much.

My rating: 4 stars

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

A Gorgeous Italo-Scandinavian Trio – Stefano Bollani’s Stone In the Water

You’ll probably have noticed by now my obsession with piano trios in Jazz.

The piano trio form in Jazz clearly comes from the US. I’ve already written about the 3 giants, Keith Jarrett, see here and here, Oscar Peterson, see here, and the obvious Bill Evans (see here).

However, these days many of my favorite trios seem to be European.

Three hotspots emerge:

  • Germany: I’ve written about Triosence (see here), Edgar Knecht (see here), and Michael Wollny (see here), more to come
  • Scandinavia: The obvious Esbjörn Svensson Trio, but also Helge Lien (see here) and several others I yet have to write about
  • And finally, Italy: Giovanni Mirabassi (see here) (although he mainly lives in Paris now), and the Alboran Trio (see here) have both been mentioned in my 25 Essential Jazz albums. A reminder to self: I absolutely need to write about the brilliant Enrico Pieranunzi

I just listened to the album below recently again, and felt the urge to write about a very nice mixture of Scandinavia and Italy here.

Stefano Bollani

Bollani enrolled at the local conservatory in Florence to learn the piano at the tender age of 11. He played quite a lot with Enrico Rava, an excellent Italian trumpet player. He also has recorded quite a bit with other big names in Jazz as well.

Bollani even released a recording of Gershwin’s piano concerto with Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus, no less (on Decca). The latter by the way is an interesting version, he takes quite some liberties on this album, but it is certainly well worth hearing. His recent duo with Chick Corea on ECM (Orvieto) is also worth checking out.

Stone In The Water (2009)

Stefano Bollani Stone In The Water ECM 2009

My favorite Bollani recording is this Italo-Scandinavian trio recording from 2009, released on ECM, where he plays with the Danes Jesper Bodilsen and Morten Lund. These two also play on his very nice 2014 release Joy In Spite of Everything (also ECM), where they are joined by Bill Frisell and Mark Turner

Stone In the Water starts very strong with Dom De Iludir, a soft, melancholic ballad, and overall this album remains in the typical ECM “house sound” of what I would describe as “delicate and nuanced”. I also very much appreciate the occasional Brazilian influences in already the first track (written by a Brazilian), but also Brigas Nunca Mais.

The interplay between the three musicians is very fine, they really listen to each other. I cannot find a single track on this album I don’t like.

In summary, sometimes, less is more.

Overall rating: 4 stars

As usual with ECM, the recording quality is outstanding.

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (GubeMusic).