The Albion Beatnik Bookstore website (or how a bookshop can change a light bulb)

The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: is randomly decrepid and is neo-bankrupt: is so analogue it's anal.

Homily to Keith Jarrett

JarrettWhat Keith Jarrett plays on any concert evening is so often spellbinding. It needs to be to stand above his histrionic and hissy fit, hypochondria, grunts, Gurdjieff philosophy and Garbarek past (very difficult to forgive him those tedious classical Eurotrash early 1970s’ recordings with Jan Garbarek, the equivalent of painting the altar at the Sistine Chapel like a McDonalds drive-thru kiosk – “in Europe,” said Miles Davis, “they like everything you do, the mistakes and everything, that’s a little bit too much”). Kern and Hammerstein’s Ol’ Man River – Paul Robeson’s film version its best known performance (he changed its lyrics for his recital performances) – contrasts the vicissitudes of the song’s African American one-man Greek chorus character, Joe, with the relentless Mississippi River. When Ornette Coleman said to Jarrett that “man, you’ve got to be black” (because of his appearance), Jarrett replied that he was working on it. As proof, he had turned down the offer of lessons from Nadia Boulanger when younger, to concentrate on jazz, to get to play eventually with Miles Davis. Miles said that “white musicians seem to lag behind the beat,” suggestive perhaps of comfort and satisfaction. Probably so, if Miles said it. But Miles said also that Jarrett was a genius. Here, Ol’ Man River from 2002, Jarrett’s own inbuilt metronome keeps his playing steady to the beat, and stops his jazz horse from bolting. Jarrett chimes as a mantelpiece clock: Ol’ Man River, Old Father Time (who cheekily adds a beat at 2:03). The song’s pentatonic (five note) melody, redolent of the minstrel shows, Stephen Foster and what Miles would have disparaged as Uncle Tom music, is here given a tender and delicate wash. Jarrett’s sensitivity turns it into a lullaby free of any tension, anchored by gentle rhythmic gusto, bristling with Bach like figures at one point near the end but seamless whispers of counterpoint all through. He ends suggestively on the flattened seventh note, the devil in Jarrett.

My heart still melts when I listen to Jarrett’s most famous album, The Köln ConcertKoln, recorded in January 1975. Generally I find Jarrett’s trio playing problematic if hugely stimulating: often it seems to be reserved, his classical sensibilities inhibit an all out raw swing, his playing often not gutsy. But his solo piano playing is Jarrett at his best and purest, and, boy, when he gets it right… Jazz inhabits such a big, all-embracing world, none bigger than with the Köln concert (indeed it is the biggest selling solo piano recording in any genre ever) where he uses classical style filigree and very few jazz licks; so many jazz diehards think this is only a Mike Oldfield type sound, a second chord found on a naff piano that’s poorly recorded. Jarrett used mainly the piano’s middle register as the piano provided was poor quality; also Jarrett, having travelled badly and with food poisoning, wasn’t well. A full house (the concert started at 11:30pm, it had been organized by a 17-year-old) meant that to cancel was difficult. Weaving mantra-like harmony, dynamic rhythms that demanded Jarrett’s foot stomping, teased his facial contortions, his shouts of abandon and body twists as his deft fingerwork chased the contour of his marbled musical statue; his silk touch is lost occasionally in the steam engine of his imagination, lone voices then emerge from the depths, rise to climax, and collapse like Debussy’s sunken cathedral, subsided with exhaustion; moments of reflection then allow his fire to be lit again, serene moments as bells chime across the hills, excited movement as birds flutter; felt, cotton, rubber, all textures are caressed, glass smashed, each shard stabbing deep into your musical soul. Stella Gibbons’ prose is alive and well today, but Jarrett’s music that evening, as still now, was just fab and some…

One comment on “Homily to Keith Jarrett

  1. Philip Pullman
    8th September 2017

    White musicians lag behind the beat? No-one lagged more than Dexter Gordon, and I don’t remember Miles Davis complaining about him.

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This entry was posted on 8th September 2017 by in jazz, Keith Jarrett, Ol' Man River, piano, Uncategorised and tagged , , , , , .
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