This vinyl reissue of Keith Jarret’s ECM debut belongs in every jazz collection!

Keith Jarrett – Facing You – ECM Records ECM 1017  (1972/2015) 180-gram stereo vinyl (distr. by Universal Music), 47:37 *****:

Like many prodigies, Keith Jarrett began taking piano lessons at the age of three. At five, he appeared on a program hosted by big band leader Paul Whiteman. At his first recital (seven years old), the Allentown native performed works by various classical composers, and two original compositions. In high school, Jarrett learned jazz (inspired by Dave Brubeck) and then attended the Berklee School Of Music. After moving to New York , he caught the attention of drummer Art Blakey who recruited him into the Jazz Messengers. His breakthrough came with the Charles Lloyd Quartet. The release of the iconic album Forest Flower and an unexpected crossover with that quartet to psychedelic rock audiences (most notably at the Fillmore West in San Francisco) lifted Jarrett’s musical profile. He was a part of the Miles Davis fusion era, concentrating on electric instrumentation. He formed quartet that featured Charlie Haden, Paul Motion and Dewey Redman. He would occasionally return to quartet formats throughout his career.

Keith Jarrett artistic vision was fully realized in his solo piano works. His initial solo projects were done on electric piano. However, he created a brilliant catalog of acoustic music, starting with his first release on ECM Records, Facing You. That led to phenomenal live solo piano recordings (also with ECM), including Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (Time Magazine Jazz Album Of The Year), The Koln Concert (the best-selling jazz piano album of all time) and the 10-LP Sun Bear Concerts. These were a testament to unbridled improvisation and spontaneity. They displayed poignancy at its core that balanced the wilder improvisations. He has continued to perform as a solo artist and part of a trio. He continues to interpret classical music.         

ECM has released a re-mastered audiophile vinyl of Keith Jarrett’s 1972 label debut, Facing You. Recorded on 11/10/1971 in Oslo Norway (a day after appearing with the Miles Davis Septet), the eight song solo project (consisting of original compositions) was a stunning introduction to the elaborate and complex piano expertise of Jarrett. In what may seem restrained (in comparison to his later output of live solo albums), the pianist aligns compositions that melodically combine improvisation with elemental structure. Side I opens with possibly the most complex track, “In Front”. At 10:07 (the longest piece), Jarrett showcases the the different sides of his eclectic virtuosity. With a “controlled” freneticism, he creates a stride-inspired gospel romp with a muscular left hand and soaring right hand notation. He explores the melodic nuances in breathtaking tempo that can be found in classical performances. He intermingles bluesy elegance and soulful punctuation with subtleties like a quasi-waltz time shift and delicate key changes. When there is a “mellow” interlude toward the end, there is still a palpable rhythm anchor. His ability to manipulate the volume pedal for dramatic context is exhilarating. “Ritooria” at first sounds like a ballad with its brooding resonance. But the right hand executes a cadre of brisk runs, inflections and a crescendo. These technical maneuvers add intensity and challenge the preconceived ideas of balladry. Jarrett displays an innate lyrical integrity that allows him to move from melodic structure to improvisation and flawlessly return to the essence of the composition.

On “Lalene”, a tango-like treble groove sets the number in motion. With an entirely different right hand, jazzier flourishes are imbued with suppleness. After a nimble chord break, some inspirational potency brings this piece to a satisfying close. Side II delves into moody reflection with “My Lady; My Child”. Utilizing classical and jazz phrasing, Jarrett mixes shades of warmth and abstraction with unique chord changes. Again, the prominent right hand is percussive and the left hand employs a hypnotic pulse. He seems at one point to throw in a touch of “Danny Boy”. “ Landscape For Future Earth” has palpable atmosphere and creative timing with blues and gospel riffs. There is a distinct change of direction on “Starbright”. With a jaunty tempo, Jarrett creates a joyous flow with stride left hand hooks and swirling jazzy right hand. Also, the pianist’s “falsetto vocalization” makes its first appearance. With quicker precision, “Vapallia” alternates a dream-like landscape with a pronounced emphatic conclusion. The finale, “Semblence” combines so many different and complex disciplines, it feels like a jazz etude.

Facing You was a landmark of solo jazz recording in 1972. The dynamics of Jarrett’s talent  and the subtle production of Manfred Eicher (who described the album as an eight-song suite) are stellar. The new vinyl is nothing short of superb. The mic placement is precise. Higher-register notes are crystal clear and the lower-register has fluidity and smoothness. When there is a significant escalation of volume and key striking, there is never any rumbling or overt sharpness. Kudos to engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug. Jarrett would cement his iconic status with recordings like The Koln Concert (also available from ECM) and his subsequent work with duets, trios and quartet. His association with ECM has continued into his seventies and his commitment to transcendent music has never wavered.         

TrackList:
Side 1: In Front; Ritooria; Lalene
Side 2: My Lady/My Child; Landscape For Future Earth; Starbright; Vapallia; Semblence

—Robbie Gerson