Keith Jarrett – La Fenice – ECM Records ECM 2601/02 B0028949-02 [distr. by Universal Music group] 2-CDs, 97:38, ****1/2:
When Keith Jarrett releases a new live solo album, it is reason to celebrate. In addition to various duets, trios and quartets, Jarrett’s solo performances have been uniquely transcendental. The Koln Concert (1975) is the gold standard for solo jazz recording. The improvisational gravitas and harmonic acuity impressed the music world and made the album, the greatest selling jazz piano album of all time. Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973) and Sun Bear Concerts (1976; a mind-blowing 10 disc vinyl and 6 CD package) were other examples of Jarrett’s pioneering spirit. Despite bouts with chronic fatigue syndrome, the “greatest pianists of our time” continued to impress audiences with Paris Concert (1990) Vienna Concert (1991) and La Scala (1995). Many of these performances occurred at venues that were hosting a jazz pianist for the first time. Nearly all of Jarrett’s catalog has been with trend-setting ECM Records. He received many accolades, including the prestigious Grand Lion For Lifetime Achievement, presented by the International Festival Of Contemporary Music of the Biennale di Venezia.
ECM has released a recording of an historic 2006 Keith Jarrett concert. La Fenice, recorded at Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy (again a breakthrough venue for jazz musician) concentrates on an eight-part “improvisational suite” presented in a 2-CD package. “Part I” is an extended (17:40) frenetic jazz exploration that pushes the boundaries of abstraction. There are punctuated rhythms and emphatic notation that are scintillating and interpretive of free jazz. The uninhibited pulsating themes are electrifying. At the 10:30 mark, there is a shift to a more ruminative flow with delicacy. It maintains elements of “open” improvisation, but with emotional intimacy. “Part II” returns to the wilder “free” techniques with lightning-quick fingering and dramatic context. Jarrett’s ultimate command of various genres permeates his solo work. “Part III” mixes an agile combination of jazz and gospel. The muscular arrangement features a pulsating left-hand groove and blues-drenched right hand flourishes. As he slows the jam down, the hypnotic command only intensifies, with supple complex tempos. It concludes with a haunting fade. “Part IV” is elegant and meditative with an inherent Americana eloquence. The melody is achingly beautiful with a hymnal essence.
Reaching into his extraordinary jazz fluency, “Part V” captures some unbridled bop fury. Up tempo, it feels like high-octane traditional jazz, but with classical timing. Disc 2 switches gears on “Part VI”. Jarrett’s ethereal runs feature high-register single notes and lower register chording. His imagery is at times unsettling, but full of trills and unexpected descending and ascending progressions. His playing can be hushed or suddenly grandiose before revisiting solitude (with slight dissonance). In keeping with his unpredictable performance legacy, Jarrett shines on a tender interlude of Gilbert And Sullivan’s “The Sun Whose Rays (Are All Ablaze)” from the beloved Mikado. Jarrett celebrates the accessibility and innocence of this song, but tamps down the light opera jauntiness with a plaintive approach. “Part VII” delivers on the integrity of jazz improvisation with airy chord modulation in quiet contemplative textures. “Part VIII” reaches into the heart and soul of stride piano. With a finessed “boogie woogie” left hand, Jarrett exhibits funky New Orleans timing with a refined, bluesy right hand.
The encore is a significant departure from the eight-part improvisational suite. Jarrett breathes new life into Ireland’s perennial tenor standard, “My Wild Irish Rose”. Each turn through the verse is articulated with varied wistfulness that frames the romantic melancholy. In effect the pianist transforms an Irish ditty into an eternal jazz standard. He manages to sustain the melodic coherence, while injecting a potent glow. A cascading moment near the end adds classical shading. And it thrills the enthusiastic audience. “Stella by Starlight” was an obscure movie theme that became a staple for jazz musicians, among them Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Jarrett (who had previously recorded this with his trio) flips the switch and turns this into a hot swing fest. His brilliant talent is on full display. Jarrett closes with the introspective “Blossom”. He first recorded this on the 1974 album Belonging which introduced his European quartet to the world. His uncanny acumen for heartfelt expression and unrivaled piano aesthetics is mesmerizing. The listener is moved by his performance and aspirational musical dynamics. He caresses the song’s core with a radiant glow.
Keith Jarrett’s solo piano work is peerless. In essence, he can only compete with himself. All of his albums are deeply moving and brilliant artistic statements. La Fenice is no exception. The sound mix is pristine. The mic placement is excellent. The piano sounds like you’re listening to Jarrett play in your living room. Keith Jarrett and ECM remain one of the most successful collaborations in jazz history.
Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V
Part VI; The Sun Whose Rays; Part VII; Part VIII; My Wild Irish Rose; Stella By Starlight; Blossom
Link for more info here.