Keith Jarrett, organ – Hymns; Spheres – ECM (2 CDs)

by | Dec 27, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Keith Jarrett, organ – Hymns; Spheres – ECM 1086/87 (2 CDs) – (1976/1/22/13) [Distr. by Universal] *****:

This was originally a two-LP ECM release of 1976, recorded without any overdubs or special ornamentation.  This reissue has of course been cleaned up and is somewhat more complete than were the LPs. Jarrett is playing a “Trinity” tracker pipe organ at the Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Bavaria (which also has two smaller organs). The really unique effects heard here were created by pulling some of the organ stops out partway while others remain completely closed or open.

According to Jarrett himself, the original LPs were highly rated in Europe but panned in the U.S., where people connect pipe organ music only with going to church.  In a way, the comment it often received here was “It doesn’t swing,” and that’s correct, it doesn’t. Gone are the ostinato parts in the bass, the wildly rhythmic variations, and the vocal sounds. Instead, this might appeal to fans of Philip Glass with its hypnotic often repetitious dirge-like drawn-out sounds.  It has been compared to the organ works of Messiaen and Ligeti. It is most difficult to describe the music. Again, it is a representation of one of the great improvisers of today, but from a completely different place than on the piano keyboard.

The sounds are usually atmospheric, almost like some ambient music, but occasionally great tumult and almost a wall of sound break forth. The music is completely mesmerizing and you want to let it carry you along. It works especially well via one of the pseudo-surround processors, as do any pipe organ recordings. All in all Hymns and Spheres are a testament to Jerrett’s amazing creativity.


Hymn of Remembrance, Spheres: movements 1 thru Nine; Hymn of Release

—John Sunier

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