Keith Jarrett – No End – ECM 2361/62, (2 CDs) CD 1: 46:41, CD 2: 46:00 [11/25/13] ***1/2:
(Keith Jarrett – electric guitar, Fender bass, drums, tablas, percussion, voice, recorder, piano, producer, engineer, album drawing; Manfred Eicher – executive producer)
Keith Jarrett‘s double-CD album, No End, will not appeal to all his fans. The music, recorded in 1986 but not issued until late 2013, was taped in Jarrett’s home studio in New Jersey. Essentially, it shows Jarrett messing about, vamping as a one-man-band on twenty, wide-ranging instrumentals (that extend from three to seven minutes in length) which skip from funk riffs to jazz-rock, from world music elements to experimental slices.
Unlike most of Jarrett’s releases on the ECM label, No End is not a pristine accomplishment; this is a lo-fi, DIY effort: don’t listen to this expecting high-end audiophile sound. The music was taped on two 2-track Tandberg cassette recorders, utilizing overdubs, and then bounced from machine to machine. Every piece has tape hiss (although noticeable it does not get in the way), and the mixing levels were done on-the-fly by Jarrett, so there are instances when some instruments are not perfectly balanced. Jarrett did all of the engineering, using a small mixing board, and adding minor reverb. Otherwise, the music exists as it was created in an impromptu approach: flaws and all. Also, Jarrett notes this music should be played loud, “since many inner details will be lost at lower volume.”
Musically, Jarrett performs on several instruments, primarily his red Gibson electric guitar, plus a Fender bass guitar, a drum kit, a plethora of percussive instruments (notably tablas, but also shakers, cow bell and others), a recorder, and only occasional acoustic piano. Jarrett also employs chanting and wordless vocals, as an undercurrent. Most tracks emphasize guitar and percussion and are based on rhythmic developments, rather than standard melodies or harmonic motifs. Jarrett explains in his concise and informative liner notes there was no forethought or pre-conceived design: material was often centered on a simple rhythmic idea, a bass line, or an improvised melody.
While Jarrett has a certain command of his amped, six-string instrument, he is nowhere near a virtuoso as he is on keyboards: he displays solid intent for the unrehearsed moments, but there is no finesse. The first CD, with ten tunes which equal 46 minutes, opens with a long excursion where Jarrett maintains a droning style, with tribal percussion riding below. Funk rears up on “II,” where drums and bass craft a contoured, beat-driven vamp. Two overlapping guitars mesh to create zigzagging lines, sometimes bending against each other. There is a minimalist, Grateful Dead/krautrock feel during “III,” where Jarrett presents a repeating groove via tablas and other percussion items, while he layers nonverbal vocalizations under a blues-guitar riff. This cut might easily have graced early LPs by the German group Can. Jarrett veers direction on “V,” which has a smooth, Caribbean flavor with a straightforward 4/4 time signature. It is far from essential listening, but an intriguing variation. Bass becomes more primary on “VII,” a slab of jazz-funk which has more of a 1976 sensibility than 1986: fortunately, it is not as stilted and rigid as other music released in the same genre. Jarrett finally uses acoustic piano on the lightly experimental “X,” although the keyboard is overshadowed by his guitar chords and hand percussion.
The second CD (also ten tracks and 46 minutes) follows a similar pathway. The moody “XII” has a melancholy melody, with slight washes from drum cymbals laid beneath one of Jarrett’s best guitar solos, and complimentary bass lines which prove he’s no slouch on electric bass. This number could undoubtedly be resurrected and transformed into something quite excellent. He takes a comparable course through the somewhat rougher “XV,” marred a bit by Jarrett’s jam-like guitar noodling (perhaps too close to Jerry Garcia than necessary). “XIII” is the hardest-hitting track. Jarrett provides a thumping bass and cutting guitar passages, with propelling tom-toms, tablas and cowbell as a fitting foundation. Jarrett turns back to an exploratory edge on “XIV,” which prisms with curved harmonics, and evokes James “Blood” Ulmer. The rest of the second CD does not stray far from what Jarrett fashions on the first CD: some pieces seem undeveloped; others reveal Jarrett’s ability to shape sincere music as he adheres to his notions of freedom and invention.
CD 1: Parts I – X
CD 2: Parts XI – XX