By TYRAN GRILLO Published: February 14, 2016
New York, NY
February 9, 2016
Watching fans eagerly photographing a player-less piano, as if in hopes of visualizing forces only Keith Jarrett can translate at the keyboard, I couldn't help wondering what it was all for. Neither could he.
Anticipations were nevertheless high as the audience prepared for a night of fully improvised music by that format's most widely heard practitioner. Jarrett took to the stage in blood-red shirt and black pants, cutting a figure as vivid as everything he was about to play. Before he began, he compared his process to a game of shuttlecock, the Native American variant of which he recounted playing with his two sons. Together, he said, they'd been "committed to keeping this thing in the air," and hoped to do the same for us. Still, it was difficult to feel airborne in the overlapping currents that eddied from his fingers in the first three pieces. It seems the piano discloses further complexities every time Jarrett engages with it, and in these initially treacherous journeys he seemed to be tilting a magnifying glass in search of that angle at which the sunlight yields flame.
Jarrett's notecraft was thick and fascinating. There was a groove in there somewhere, struggling against the weight of its own body, drowning in memories of early jazz and prophetic visions of spontaneous composition. I wish it had gone on, but the applause and atmosphere of the room told him this wasn't what the audience had come to hear. In response, he eased into a byzantine blues with downright aggressive consonance. Here he sowed long rows of musical crops. As if to confirm the metaphor, he took a sip of water during the more enthusiastic response that followed, quipping, "I don't know what I would do without water. Yes I do. I would die." One might substitute the word "music" for "water" and pull no punch from the statement. He'd reaped life from that soil.
After the next piece, he went to the microphone, explaining how he wanted to "avoid everything I've ever done." Sadly, this audience didn't agree. "I'm not that guy, man," he asserted against a tide of laughter, but proceeded to become that guy for our benefit. Like a singer wanting to try out new material for those who crave only the classics, he bowed under pressure and went full melodic from thereon out, but not before opening the keyboard to its possibilities, unpacking future gifts with the glee of the present in a towering, glassine monument. It made me want to listen in on his private sessions to know what other doors he opens when shut in behind his own.
The tension between what he wanted to play and what he thought we wanted to hear had the benefit of variety. From architected bass lines and adlibbed overlays, he spun some of the magic one hoped to see revived from his classic recordings. This was enhanced by his uniquely edible blues, which in contrast to many of said recordings found him abstracting his way through the genre's rudiments, turning the blues into an acute spectrum of greens, yellows, and other colors besides.
There is something inevitable about Jarrett's playing. Also inevitable were those who, even in the wake and knowledge of his Carnegie woes in 2011, to say little of the incident at Umbria in 2007, chanced a photo. Were people secretly hoping he would melt down? Did they just not care? Was it the possibility of being called out on their indiscretion that thrilled them? I'm inclined to think the latter, for when Jarrett berated the crowd for its technological dependencies and said, "Okay, here's your photo op, take it now," not a single flash went off in the auditorium. My sense is that no one has taken Jarrett seriously enough on this point. And the point, really, is not about the distraction. It's about giving less than full attention to the art. Not that anyone is required to do so, but it's a simple courtesy, easy enough to follow. Is the lure of a cell phone really so impossible to resist for two hours when one of the most legendary musicians of our time fills those hours with something infinitely more sublime than a text message or status update? The camera is a surrogate method of appreciation for such a performance. It's the instrument of a tourist who wants to show off having been there, when that time and energy might have been spent listening undividedly. If this sounds pretentious, then we might want to rethink our reasons for attending in the first place. (As Jarrett put it: "If you don't like my music, maybe you shouldn't be here.") A photo feels permanent, but it's the perishability of a memory that makes it beautiful.
This being my first experience of Jarrett in a live setting, I was so happy to be there, third row center, that the occasional pinpoint of light reflected off the immaculately polished Steinway seemed more like the death of a distant star than intrusion upon the one rhapsodizing in my immediate orbit. But my tolerance was tested when, even after Jarrett had aired his grievances and insisted that no more music would be heard that night if he saw another flash go off, the woman sitting next to me immediately took out her cell phone to snap a surreptitious picture of Jarrett during his first encore and post it on Facebook. Such blatant disregard proved that indifference to an artist's demands—and I think Jarrett's are reasonable, assuming one factors out the potential excitement of unpredictability—far outweighs technological fetish. Did anyone, I wonder, ever barge in on Rembrandt in the middle of a painting session to dash off a sketch of the artist at work and show all their 17th-century friends?
By the second and final encore, an elliptical and touching riff on "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," the mood had settled into quiet shame. I asked myself: How much of this experience could ever be captured in a single photo? Then again, for those who expect an artist like Jarrett to play in the same mode indefinitely, the almighty photo delivers the illusory comfort of fixity. Like the unfortunate soul in front of me who was discovered to have been sold a counterfeit ticket when another concertgoer showed up with the same seat number, what these trigger-happy fans held in their hands was not genuine. And in any event, what Jarrett held in his was beyond all technological measure—this review not least of all.
20160429 Keith Jarrett Solo
Keith Jarrett (p)
April 29th 2016; Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles , Ca , USA
20160502 Keith Jarrett Solo
Keith Jarrett (p)
May 2nd 2016; Davies Simphony Hall, San Francisco , Ca , USA
We went to see Jarrett last night at Davies Symphony Hall. It was one of
The place was full but certainly not sold out. I wonder whether the
stiff pricing on tickets might have had something to do with that.
Jarrett played five pieces in each of the two sets, then four encores.
They tended to be more chromatic and expansive than melodic, and each
felt like an exploration of possibility. Even more than ever it was
clear that the evening was a collaboration between artist and audience.
As usual his fragments of commentary served as excellent program notes,
even in their fragmented casual fashion. For instance, he remarked about
there being an element of this being a game...that there is fun,
implying discovery. After one extraordinary - really extraordinary -
piece where he played wild soaring runs, around, up and down, on and on,
creating radiant clouds of sound, he recalled a comment he received
after a Charles Lloyd concert in the 1960's from pianist George Russell,
"88 times 88". Jarrett commented that there are just not enough keys on
a piano, and he was trying to find a way to break out of the constraints
of what is obvious (and he lamented the trends in modern culture in
general and pop music in particular to employ vapid catches...that eve a
bad rock drummer is better than a drum machine).
Piece after piece, when he finished playing, he paused long in the
silence the followed, as if he had really given it everything, all he
had. And the potency of the evening grew, with the audience drawing up
in anticipation before the start of the next one.
After one driving, penetrating piece, he commented, "Let's suppose I
were to release a recording of this concert [a collective cheer arose],
you would be able to hear the sounds, the notes, the music. But you
would not be able to hear the energy, the commitment. That is why it is
so important that we are all here tonight."
There was one audience member, sitting in the terrace ringing the stage,
who became disruptive, first shouting "Jesus loves you", then later,
"What is that you are drinking?" to finally a rant about Jarrett not
using a microphone during some of his comments. It was the sort of
dissonance that could have easily derailed the evening. It was marvelous
to see Jarrett handle this, as if he were fully present in the moment
with the game, with whatever arose. Instead of devolving, Jarrett
parried this guy off, which actually enhanced the sense of art and
There was one piece in the second set that reminded me of the pieces in
his last release, Creation, which seemed to wander here and there, never
seeming to develop any idea or discover anything new. I found that
entire album disappointing, leaving me shaking my head, "What is the
message here? What is he thinking?" I tried to welcome the piece last
night in the spirit of discovery, this being a live performance, yet not
succeeding. Except, at the end of it, Jarrett simplified the lines and
turned it into a rich, simple melodic progression, as if he were
extracting out of the preceding 5 minutes something that was there all
along, but I was just not able to hear it. It was as if he had set up
this tension a year ago, a tension I have been holding, waiting for
resolution...and in a few short phrases, there it was, in all its beauty.
He played a short blues piece in the first set that was refreshing and
new. I have often felt his blues pieces were a bit rote and uninspired.
But this time he modified the chord progressions, sometimes going
I-IV-V-I, or even I-IV-VI-III-V-I...something like that. Each verse he
brought different lines, harmonies, explorations in the right hand. It
was completely alive.
The evening closed with Rainbow, possibly the most beautiful rendition,
ever. Brought tears. So beautiful.
After the release of Creation and after too many on-stage melt-downs, I
was beginning to wonder whether I might forget about more live concerts
with Jarrett...especially after seeing the pricing on these tickets. But
last night was one of those evenings where we walked out feeling awe,
feeling transformed, knowing that we had participated in an
extraordinary event, a testament to what is possible when people come
together skillfully with intention.
Keith Jarrett July European tour
July 3 - BUDAPEST - Bela Bartok National Concert Hall
July 6 - BORDEAUX - L'Auditorium de Bordeaux - new 1450 seat symphony hall
that opened in 2013
July 9 - VIENNA - Musikverein
July 12 - ROME - Venue TBA - either Teatro dell- Opera -or- Auditorium Parco della Musica
July 16 - MUNICH - Gasteig Philharmonic