All Jarrett

Reviews 31.01.2024

French musicologist and musician Ludovic Florin offers us a literary sum that every good Jarrettian must have by now, published by Editions du Layeur. After Chick Corea and before Herbie Hancock, Florin combs through Keith Jarrett's musical heritage. What this artist has lacked is a work in French worthy of the musical impact Jarrett has had on our world, in addition to a meagre, succinct biography published by Actes Sud and nothing else: here, at last, is the book we've been waiting for! This immense work (if only for its size) delves exhaustively and in detail into the pianist's complete discography.

Less than a year ago, an interview with musician and youtuber Rick Beato gave us pictorial news of Keith Jarrett. After his two strokes in 2018, music lovers were concerned about his state of health. This long interview gave a sad answer to our questions. Keith Jarrett would never play on stage again. His life as a pianist was now behind him. We see him painfully trying to play with his only valid hand (his right) and listening to his old recordings with a certain detachment tinged with nostalgia.

Some old concerts may be released, but nothing new will be published.
But not everything has been said.

Florin's book covers Jarrett's entire life: from his beginnings with Art Blakey, his stints with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis, his two quartets, his trio and, of course, all his solos, as well as his various collaborations as a sideman. Chronologically and thematically, we are swept up in the life of a musician of undisputed musical genius, sure of his abilities and with a clear and absolute artistic vision. Ludovic Florin knows Jarrett's music well, and speaks of it not only as a music lover, but also as a musicologist and (fortunately) as a musician. So this is not a hagiography, but an informed and erudite critical study of Jarrettian heritage.

Photos Keith Jarrett - Éditions Le Layeur

Reading this book in full and chronologically, one realizes that the musical life of an artist such as Keith Jarrett is above all a story of encounters, due to chance and good advice (thank you Manfred Eicher!) that made him what he is today (a musical extraterrestrial), of musical choices taken on board - sometimes misunderstood - and above all that of an unshakeable artistic requirement. How to tell the story of a life with such eclectic musical tastes? Let's leave it to Keith Jarrett himself, in this essay taken from his album Expectations, reissued on CD by Columbia in 1999: "I see the eclectic as someone who likes many different things, and uses them in his work to create a satisfying or acceptable style. Although I'm often labeled an eclectic, I don't think I fit into that category, because I see the different modes of expression as part of the same flow, the same endeavor. I don't see them as different 'things' (...) As an artist, you can't help seeing or hearing things that influence your work, especially if your bandwidth is wide. But if what then emanates from you is your own singular voice, it's not a style, it's not eclectic."

Clearly, this book is a first-rate achievement and a must-have for every music lover. There you have it. It easily replaces all the biographies already available. Each record is a pretext for telling anecdotes about the recording, in-depth analyses of the pieces making up the albums and the author's clear-cut positions.

I've chosen three focal points from this lush collection of 127 albums of a lifetime.

Photos Keith Jarrett - Éditions Le Layeur

Scott Jarrett, Without Rhyme or Reason (1979) Arista/GRP

In the Jarrett family, being a musician is almost a vital obligation. Two of his brothers are also artists: Chris Jarrett is an improvising pianist and composer on the borderline between jazz and contemporary music, with a prolific body of work; Scott Jarrett, has turned to guitar and folk songs. Then there's Grant Jarrett, a musician in his first life, then an author of confidential success, who in 2002 published an autobiography(More Towels) in which he reproaches his brother for his lack of support... Two of Keith Jarrett's sons are accomplished musicians: Noah on double bass and Gabriel on percussion. There's a magnificent live recording where father and son improvise together(Gabe & Keith), exhausting themselves exploring all the sonorities offered by piano and percussion.
Among Keith Jarrett's recordings as guest pianist (all collected at the end of the book), two fine contributions to the only album released by his brother Scott, Without Rhyme Or Reason, stand out. Three years younger and a guitarist in his own right, Scott recorded an album of folk/pop songs that was not at all successful (the songs are good, but a tad old-fashioned in their time), but Ludovic Florin rightly points out: " While respecting the intimate spirit of the songs, Keith still manages to create a rather atypical accompaniment on 'Pictures', a real added value to the composition". According to Ludovic Florin, the other song on which Keith intervenes is a touching, roundabout way of addressing his brother, whose career has necessarily kept them apart:

Remember when we were both little [...].
Now we've grown up and have our own lives.
You had yours and I had mine; oh and
It was never my fault

Long ago, back there, we knew
That we'd go our separate ways; the two of usThe memories remain as the years pass
Leaving little to hold on to

Alan Hovhaness, Mysterious Mountain, Lousadzak (1988) Music Masters

Jarrett's career as an interpreter of past composers is well known and admired. His recordings of Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Bartok and Shostakovich set the standard today. He is also a first-rate interpreter of his contemporaries, as evidenced by this anthology version of Fratres with violinist Gidon Kremer, thanks to the (often brilliant and fertile) mediation of the head of the legendary ECM label, Manfred Eicher, who recounts the meeting between the violinist and pianist: "It was the first time they had met, and it was their first and only recording together. [...] It was an electrifying performance between Gidon and Keith. It was wonderful." His curiosity also led him to champion lesser-known composers on this side of the Atlantic, such as Lou Harrison, Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Alan Hovhaness.
Hovhaness (1911-2000) was an American composer of Scottish and Armenian origin who, during his lifetime, had the immense joy of being played by Serge Rachmaninov and Wynton Marsalis, admired and recognized by Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass, Alice Coltrane, Sam Rivers, Leopold Stokowski and Ravi Shankar, and supported by John Cage himself and the immense choreographer Martha Graham.
The American composer Lou Harrison (also a friend of his) declared that he was "one of the greatest melodists of the 20th century". This makes up for the famous anecdote of Hovhaness being humiliated in public during a seminar at Tanglewood by Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, who analyzed Hovhaness's First Symphony "Exile " and mocked the fact that he was still writing in C major and in a tonal and modal manner - they were the champions of atonal modernity (a paradox when you consider the works that the general public has retained of each of them). Bernstein is reported to have said on hearing the work: "I can't stand this cheap ghetto music". Hovhaness is said to have returned home and burned much of his work before taking refuge in his Armenian musical roots. Lousadzak op. 48 (1944) belongs to this period inspired by Armenian folklore; this concerto for piano and orchestra conducted by Dennis Russel Davies with Keith at the piano is one of the most beautiful versions of this work, and one of the composer's most recorded pieces. Hovhaness's writing is not without influence for Jarrett, with its propensity for stripped-down, orientalist repetition and a pronounced taste for modality.

Keith Jarrett, Sun Bear Concerts (1976) ECM

Five concerts, five different Japanese cities, ten vinyl records, six and a half hours of music and a recording venture like no other, all spurred on by Manfred Eicher, who was a guardian angel for Keith Jarrett, as well as the initiator of numerous artistic encounters. Eicher introduced Jarrett to saxophonist Jan Garbarek, with whom he recorded, inspired the idea of a duo with double bassist Gary Peacock, and enabled Jarrett to envisage an entire solo piano album, etc.
Eicher told Jazz Magazine in 2015: "My collaboration with Keith Jarrett began very simply, with a letter I sent him one fine morning, proposing a whole range of projects: a trio album with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Burtona piano duo with Chick Coreaa double piano/bass duo with Keith and Chick on one side and Gary Peacock and Dave Holland. And, finally, a solo piano album... (...) He got back to me pretty quickly (...), saying it would be good to meet up and talk about it all. (...) We met up after the concert, and talked for hours, strolling through the alleys of the big park in the center of town. (...) He instinctively felt he had an opportunity (with ECM). And then I was the only one to suggest that he record solo, and that was really where his desire lay. He agreed to go for it.

Photos Keith Jarrett - Éditions Le Layeur

These few hours of music are undoubtedly the best thing Jarrett ever did as a musician. As Ludovic Florin rightly points out, these improvisations would merit an entire book: on their own, they sum up the entire musical history of the twentieth century, and anticipate the twenty-first. Keith Jarrett could have recorded just these five concerts and still be the undisputed master of improvised music. Every music-lover owes it to himself to experience this: listen to these five concerts one after the other and realize that they form a perfectly organic whole. In his improvisations, Jarrett syncretizes the musical techniques of his entire century and the entire history of music. We move from the lyricism of Schumann to the counterpoint of Bach, all the while quoting Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and anticipating the piano writing of John Adams or Terry Riley, with our ears open to folk, pop and, of course, jazz - all in the space of a few minutes and in an unprecedented aesthetic unity. During these five evenings, Jarrett is in a permanent state of grace, avoiding the pitfall he is often criticized for: pianistic chatter that leads to empty keyboard passages. Here, every second of music is invested and moving. Here is Keith Jarrett's discographic summit, which will put everyone in agreement, from those who adore the famous Köln Concert to those who abhor it. Ludovic Florin sums up the effect these concerts have on the listener: "Fascinating is the energy deployed in its variations; fascinating is the management of the flow to maintain interest; fascinating is the rhythmic vitality, the supple phrasing (the Tokyo encore, for example), the quality of the sound planes, the clarity of the subject; fascinating still are the contrasts of character, the mood swings, the expressive palette, the sudden bifurcations. Fascinating, in short, the physical and mental performance achieved night after night, and the sensation of reliving a creation in real time that accompanies listening to it.
We'll never tire of these hours of unforgettable music, and Ludovic Florin succeeds in doing something unprecedented: putting it into words and making us want to plunge into Keith Jarrett's inexhaustible universe.

François Mardirossian


buy twitter accounts