This isn’t a particularly astonishing piece for Keith Jarrett; he often improvises extremely beautiful and complex pieces, and the last album of his I got still renders me speechless.
This is from 1984 in Tokyo, and is simplistic, if virtuosic. I’m mainly posting it for you, Will and Syd, so you can see what the man looks like playing. It may be structurally simple, but it’s totally awesome: the different tempos, the joy, the propulsion. I love it.
At 12:55 AM, I heard barking and knocking; I also noted that my bedroom, where I lay reading, was flooded with lights, and I heard an engine feet from my window. Someone had pulled a Tahoe onto my lawn, and people were jumping out and screaming. It turned out to be an intoxicated coworker with a truckload of her friends. My dogs were underwhelmed. We talked for a bit; she told her friends some unsustainably superlative things about me such that I would have been disappointing to them normally but -in the middle of the night, having been alone and ill for hours- I was like a Christmas with no presents. One asked me who my favorite writers were; naming three, I was met with this look people give me here sometimes: “I’ve never heard of them, so you must be really smart.” I’m going to start making up names of writers, colleges, and genres of music; people will hire me to tutor professors.
I guess I hate myself a lot; this comes and goes, but right now it’s here. I don’t know why, but tonight the world has seemed especially unbearable, and I most of all; living alone is tranquil but the hypertrophy of your personality, when unchecked by others, can be nauseating.
I can’t sleep.
I’ve posted bits of Keith Jarrett before, but as his best work is too long to upload (and in any event is something one either finds and loves or doesn’t) I haven’t mentioned him in a while.
But this is one of the rather rare video snippets online of a contemporary solo improvisational piece (2002), and it’s pretty extraordinary. It requires some focus, and at times makes me a bit anxious (that is, its melodic and harmonic language isn’t formulaic and thus isn’t reassuring), but I think it’s wonderful.
I am still simple enough that I sometimes prefer this or this, but the above is amazing, and seeing him play helps make it intelligible and appealing.
Taking an excerpt from the Vienna concert is like showing a two-minute clip of one’s most cherished movie, or reading three pages from one’s favorite book, or perhaps like having a long-distance relationship.
But Part I, which is available in its entirety here, is 41 minutes long; in its astonishing perfection, too, it can require more attention than is reasonable to request. I hope, perhaps absurdly, that this excerpt appeals; I think Jarrett is one of the finest musicians of our time.
This live performance is one of the darkest and most overwhelming pieces of Jarrett’s catalog, and is best appreciated at extraordinary volume in pitch blackness; if it can be arranged, rain is appropriate as well; and if one is truly committed, one could do no better than listening to it during a storm at sea. I offer it as partial repayment to S. Stratodrive for his many contributions to my library.
This will be the last Jarrett for a while; I’ve been listening to him so much that I cannot gain sufficient critical distance from the music any longer. At moments, this piece seems almost saccharine, but is rescued, for me, by its simple delight, its harmonic complexity, and tones within it which I associate with Scott Joplin and ragtime. It is another demonstration of Jarrett’s integration of vastly different parts of the American musical cannon.
The other night, my mood at its highest while various medications ebbed to their lowest levels of the day and I video-chatted with Abby, this song provoked in me a giddiness I can’t describe. There brevity of its rhythmics, its quantized beat bouncing quickly between poles of darkness and light, animated my limbs in parodic but felicitous form, and Abby laughed for a few minutes while I danced, pointed to the forms and shapes appearing and vanishing in the sound stream, and barked idiotically: “Right? Right?”
After a slow start, this has a tempo and emphasis which seems to work for me, but that’s not of general interest; what might be is that Jarrett suffers the sort of catastrophic improvisational collapse approximately halfway through that musicians know well: the mind, spinning elaborations and ideas from a central structure, loses its place suddenly and overruns. In this case, just after introducing a compelling, brightly engaging new idea, he begins a run that grows shaky, and initiating a second run he essentially adds too many beats, comes apart, attempts to recover, cannot, and then seems despairingly unable to escape a single note.