The continuum from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane had been an unbroken line, where a certain set of values produced consistently gratifying results. Call it from the first recording session of the Hot Fives to the release of A Love Supreme: 1925 to 1965: forty years, and what a forty years it was.
After Coltrane, the music splintered into many directions. One approach was taken by Keith Jarrett in consort with Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, and Dewey Redman. They began as a trio without Redman in 1967; Redman joined them in the studio in 1971, the last tracks are from 1976. During this nine year span, Jarrett released 17 LPs worth of material with these musicians, a group informally dubbed the “American Quartet” to separate it from the “European” (or “Scandinavian”) Jarrett quartet with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen.
Some see Jarrett as nonpareil, a unique being without influences. In interviews, Jarrett can occasionally sound like he drinks that kool-aid himself.
It’s just not true. The notion of “innovation” usually means, “a fresh way of combining older elements.” Jarrett was one of a generation trying to make a new sound by mixing and matching styles. The whole compass of European classical music, rock music with an unabashed backbeat, avant-garde music, atonality, and mixed meter were on the table. Earlier jazz musicians had flirted with many of those elements, but now serious relationships were being consummated.
Not included in this survey are bootlegs, alternate takes, or new material released in recent years. In high school, I collected everything commercially available. What you could get in Wisconsin in the late ’80s is still enough for me today.
The music starts at a high level but it’s not consistent. Perhaps because the mash-up was so violent and fresh, the lows can be as epic as the highs.
Most of the LPs appeared without liner notes, although Neil Tesser offers a worthy set to the reissue box Mysteries. Biographer Ian Carr almost goes out of his way to snub this band in Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music; the newer Keith Jarrett: A Biography by Wolfgang Sandner includes a few valuable paragraphs on the Atlantic sessions and, especially, Fort Yawuh. Both Carr and Sandner regard The Survivor’s Suite as the American quartet’s best and are generally more interested in the European quartet.
Helpful critical commentary seems to be scarce overall, perhaps because the aesthetic is hard to sum up quickly and gracefully. When I interviewed Jarrett, he alluded to this problem:
EI: I don’t know how it was received at the time, but my generation of musicians regard it as one of the greatest bands in history.
KJ: I broke up the band, right? Then somebody said to me, “How could you break up one of the most important bands in the history of modern jazz?” And I said, “Why didn’t you say that before? Why now?” But I guess it was a seeping process. You have to hear a lot of it, and it starts to dawn on you what exactly is going on. I don’t think you can choose a track and throw it at somebody and say, “What do you think of that?”
The most worthy performances get a star rating (****). The two greatest LPs overall occur at the end of the run: Every piece on Shades (1975) is exceptional, while the highlights of Bop-be (1976) offer some the very best playing heard anywhere. The ecstatic group pieces on Eyes of the Heart (1976), apparently the last (or nearly the last) gig, also get a special mention.
Life Between the Exit Signs (1967).
In terms of decoding genre, Jarrett’s liner notes are no help whatsoever:
I have been asked to say something about the music in this album. I would like very much to do so; however, if there were words to express it, there would be no need for the music.
Jarrett could have noted instead: “Thanks to Paul Bley for the direct inspiration.”
The big influence here is Bley’s version of Ornette Coleman, on the pianist’s 1963 album Footloose!, a favorite disc of Jarrett. Bley played with Coleman in California at the Hillcrest Club and was the first to successfully wring Ornette’s kind of bluesy-avant cry out of the piano keyboard.
— Lisbon Stomp. The melody is a cheerful swinger in an Ornette-by-way-of Bley language with a few added gospel triads. However, the improvising is open. Jarrett starts in somewhat steady time, Motian hints at a beat occasionally, but Haden is in his own sphere. Each musician’s playing contracts and expands like breathing.
The lineages and influences among these three players — both shared and disparate — require a deep dive.
Jarrett has said his first thought for a bassist in his trio was Steve Swallow, who joins Bley and Pete LaRoca on Footloose!. He ended up with someone even closer to Ornette Coleman: Charlie Haden, who was in the Hillcrest band with Bley and Coleman, and went on to be a crucial element to classic Coleman music (without Bley). Haden’s obvious jazz antecedents are Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, and Red Mitchell; what set him apart from the bebop bassists was an unashamed love of hillbilly country music and classical music like Bach.
Jarrett had mastered European classical music as a youthful prodigy — his official bio describes him as a “jazz and classical pianist” — and part of what makes the Jarrett-Haden hook-up so interesting is the shared knowledge of varied long dead Europeans. When they play free together, tonal centers emerge and submerge at unexpected times. This “tonal in free context” side of things is actually closer to Ornette with Haden than Bley with Swallow. On Life Between the Exit Signs, the piano-bass relationship is in embryo; at times Jarrett is just playing a bunch of stuff, especially when compared to Haden’s deep song. In the 70’s their shared harmonic language would deepen considerably.
There’s a lot to unpack with Paul Motian’s contribution. Motian grew up with big band music, and said Jimmy Lunceford’s drummer Jimmy Crawford was his first inspiration. Motian was in NYC early enough to see Charlie Parker and the height of bebop, and loved Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, and the rest. His own bebop stylings were more or less accurate, but there was always a surreal glint in Motian’s eye along with a kind of intentionally clunky way around the drum set. Eventually he came to prominence playing tasteful and somewhat open textures with Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro in one of the most influential trios in history. The longer he played with Jarrett, the more Motian brought his Armenian heritage to the fore, with a low and open tuning of the drums and a vaguely ethnic way with even-eighth note grooves.
Charlie Haden played with Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian played with Bill Evans. Of course, Evans was a serious influence on Jarrett as well, not on “Lisbon Stomp” but on other pieces, beginning with “Love No. 1” just below. It’s easy to see Jarrett’s new trio as the intersection of Coleman and Evans.
But, we should go to Paul Bley again, for Motian also played with Bley. Not much from Evans’s piano style found its way into Bley’s piano concept, but the much-discussed collective qualities of the Evans trio with Motian and LaFaro was obviously on Bley’s mind. This interactive style can be heard on Footloose!, but even more clearly on Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (1963) with none other than Paul Motian on drums. The generally interactive ensemble style of Evans’s Trio 64 and Paul Bley with Gary Peacock — both with Peacock and Motian — is similar, it’s really the piano player that makes the difference.
NYC free jazz invaded the scene in the early ’60s, and Motian was an eager student. Sunny Murray gets historical credit for discarding tempo at the drums, especially in trio with Albert Ayler and Gary Peacock; Spiritual Unity (1964) remains a touchstone. Whether Murray was truly first or not, Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, and Gary Peacock played circa ’64 coffee house gigs with two drummers: Sonny Murray or Paul Motian. Motian told me there was even one exceptional night with both Albert Ayler and John Gilmore on the bandstand. Gilmore can be heard with Bley, Peacock, and Motian on the masterful Turning Point.
On “Lisbon Stomp” Motian plays a certain amount of tempo, but he’s also clearly inspired by Sunny Murray and other free avatars such as Milford Graves, Andrew Cyrille, and Rashied Ali. Barry Altschul also deserves credit; Altschul had done the first trio record with Paul Bley where most of the tunes were out of tempo, Closer (1965). Closer, while still a masterpiece, plays its cards closer to the vest than Footloose!; the pianism is less fervent. Still, the absence of steady tempo suggests Closer leads into Life Between the Exit Signs as much as Footloose!
(It’s worth mentioning that Pete LaRoca, the drummer on Footloose!, apparently recorded the first “free” drum solo with Jackie McLean on “Minor Apprehension” in 1959. However LaRoca rarely played “free” with an ensemble, although his unusually flexible phrasing was certainly an asset to Footloose! overall.)
Motian was the only noted 50’s-era drummer willing to discard tempo so quickly. It was a massive shift; indeed, Bley called his biography Stopping Time because he considered that to be the most dramatic evolution of his generation. Previous jazz swung; end of story. Stopping time was something different altogether. To this day, there are those that don’t think “jazz” is the right word to describe the last two years of Coltrane’s music, where a steady pulse was abandoned.
Ornette Coleman himself didn’t stop time much until he hired a drummer who couldn’t really play in tempo, namely his son, Denardo. It’s possible that Haden really learned something from Denardo; The Empty Foxhole (1966) shows Haden trying to adjust to the new normal, awkwardly walking quarter notes against the grain, but then Haden’s work on the following Coleman classics Ornette at 12! and Crisis is fluid and flawless.
There’s at least one more genre to cite in “Lisbon Stomp,” the addition of a few triadic gospel chords. The countrified waltz “Turns” on Footloose is one reference — a song also known as “Around Again,” and apparently by Paul Bley but occasionally credited to Carla — but Jarrett goes for something even more obvious. It’s telling that the first track on the first Jarrett album, as free as it is, has this gospel signature, an aspect that would help define’s Jarrett’s charismatic sound for his millions of devoted later fans.
Vince Guaraldi might have broken open this piggy bank in 1962 with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Ramsey Lewis released “The In Crowd” in 1965. These were big hits, heard everywhere there was a juke box. The best jazz has always taken from popular music: it is one of the secret sauces in the recipe. Jarrett took from “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and “The In Crowd.” There is no doubt about it.
The tiny coda to the melody at the end of “Lisbon Stomp” is an Ornette squall on piano, the kind of thing Paul Bley called an “erasure phrase,” an utterance that intentionally invalidates what came before. This is also the bebop tradition of Charlie Parker, who ironically tossed off the non sequitur “Country Gardens” at the end of a ballad.
–— Love No. 1. The Bill Evans influence comes to the fore on a medium ballad. Many of Jarrett’s rich left hand voicings are exactly the kinds of voicings Evans would use. Naturally, Motian plays exactly the way he did with Evans.
— Love No. 2. The melody is angular, something Carla Bley would have written for her husband’s album Closer, but then the improvisation is a relentless blast of some of most extremely “out” music a piano trio can manage. While “Lisbon Stomp” might be like Ornette Coleman playing the alto sax, “Love No. 2” is like Coleman playing noise violin. At the piano, this usually means a Cecil Taylor reference, although Jarrett generally sounds more like modernist classical music than Taylor does. (Carla Bley’s atonal themes for Paul Bley are also influenced by Europeans like Anton Webern in a way that Cecil Taylor’s melodies are not.) When Jarrett strums inside the piano, it alludes to experimental composers like Henry Cowell and John Cage.
Lowell Davidson deserves mention. Jarrett speaks about listening to a long-lost Davidson tape with Motian on drums; early Jarrett at his freest shares qualities with the inspired LP The Lowell Davidson Trio (1965). Perhaps Davidson was really the nexus between Bley and Taylor at this moment. Jarrett sounds more like Bley than either Taylor or Davidson, but Davidson is in the conversation.
To make an obvious point, the compositions “Love No. 1” and “Love No. 2,” despite nearly sharing the title, are at opposite ends of the spectrum emotionally. Jarrett was about drawing on extremes — not just one extreme, but several extremes. Neither Cecil Taylor or Paul Bley ever dared to play a repeating gospel vamp to close out an avant improvisation; Neither Vince Guaraldi or Ramsey Lewis ever took a frantic atonal solo after getting the groove going. Bill Evans almost played some freer music in the ’50s, but by the time the Evans was a bankable star, his aesthetic had refined and defined into a certain thing.
In terms of colliding Ornette Coleman, 60’s grooves, and Bill Evans at the piano keyboard, Jarrett would end up leading the pack — but he was not alone. Even more than Lowell Davidson, we should remember to include Steve Kuhn and Denny Zeitlin in the conversation about Jarrett. Indeed, both Kuhn and Zeitlin put out important records before Jarrett. Zeitlin tracked some lovely music with Charlie Haden in 1964 and 1965 (in a blindfold test, Thelonious Monk praised “Carole’s Garden” from Carnival). Kuhn’s excellent Three Waves from 1966 shares the Footloose! rhythm section of Steve Swallow and Pete LaRoca. There’s even a nice Kuhn LP from 1968, Watch What Happens, with the future Jarrett rhythm section of Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen. These pianists and peers were all drinking water from the same well.
(****) — Everything I Love. On the Cole Porter tune, the band manages to be in the middle of the influences: Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, other modernists. The scaffolding behind his abstracted melody statement is very strong: Jarrett is surely someone that learned the standards from the sheet music and could sing the original melody accurately. “Everything I Love” is the best track on this LP, with a stunning piano improvisation that levitates to the sky (almost as if Ornette Coleman played changes) over an otherworldly hook-up in the bass and drums. Jarrett would eventually become known as a trio standards player in the group with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, but this first trio standard on his first album would remain hard to top.
— Margot. Similar to a Bill Evans waltz.
Even on the 4/4 “Everything I Love,” Jarrett’s improvised lines don’t really reference bebop; they reference the scalar language as used by Evans or the free lyrical logic of Ornette Coleman/Paul Bley. His voice-leading and the way he threads the corners of the harmony together is not always very sophisticated when compared to someone dedicated to blending tonal harmony and clave in the Bud Powell tradition.
I’ll restate that point: When Jarrett plays on the changes, he’s playing melodies generated straight from the chord scale, or a melody that follows its own logic and denies the chord scale; there aren’t so many of the tiny snakes and connecting rhythmic hooks that define Powell and his followers.
There’s no canonical bebop performance in 3/4. Mixed meter automatically normalizes scalar thinking, which is why the waltz was so perfect for Bill Evans on one hand (“Waltz For Debby,” “Very Early”) and John Coltrane (“My Favorite Things,” “Spiritual”) on the other.
— Long Time Gone (But Not Withdrawn). Of the originals on the first disc, “Lone Time Gone (But Not Withdrawn)” is the most charismatic, with little gospel chants buried in the avant texture. The blowing is noisy and even almost silly. Haden has it together, but both Jarrett and Motian are still working it out.
— Life Between the Exit Signs. The fast waltz is real ’60s music, something like a television commercial or Burt Bacharach. Jarrett liked Dave Brubeck, especially the solo disc Brubeck plays Brubeck, and this tune with marching thirds is a little bit in that lineage — not that Brubeck ever played this loose. They are probably blowing on the form, but it’s all an intentional jumble.
— Church Dreams. A lovely chorale in the Americana tradition of Aaron Copland. Jarrett would have a lot more to say about this topic in the future! The open blowing is quite tonal, with the sustain pedal in play and many rich harmonies. On Everybody Digs Bill Evans, both “Piece Peace” and “Epilogue” break sharply with the jazz tradition of blues and swing. There’s no Jarrett “Church Dreams” without Evans’s “Piece Peace” and “Epilogue.”
Somewhere Before (1968).
The next trio disc is live at Shelly’s Manne-Hole. Both were for Vortex, a subsidiary of Atlantic.
(****) — My Back Pages. On tour with Charles Lloyd in 1967, the Summer of Love repertoire included an uncomplicated rendition of the Beatles hit “Here, There and Everywhere.”
Like many of his peers, Jarrett unhesitatingly embraced the era. His second album was Restoration Ruin, an unimpressive collection of originals on the rock-singer/songwriter/folk spectrum. Jarrett’s vocals are pretty bad. This might be the worst sophomore effort from a jazz genius in the whole canon.
The smarter move was simply putting this genre straight into his trio music. Covering Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” made all the sense in the world. Dylan recorded it as a waltz, but this backbeat 4/4 rendition emulates the hit version by The Byrds. Jarrett’s control of light and shade, both in the melody and the accompaniment, gives his pianism a kind of glamour that can reach out and touch listeners from any background.
It’s time to bring up Ramsey Lewis again: if the Lewis unit with Isaac “Redd” Holt and Eldee Young had played “My Back Pages,” it might have sounded quite a bit like this. Les McCann and Gene Harris were also very important; there must be other black names to include.
However, the white pianists who were more country than gospel seem closer to Jarrett. Jarrett said he liked Mose Allison, who had a charming “white boy blues” thing, beginning with the unlikely conceptual work “Back Country Suite” from the first Allison album in 1957. Allison eventually achieved wider fame as a singer-composer, and it’s barely possible that Jarrett looked to Allison as a model when plotting singer-songwriter vocals on Restoration Ruin. A relevant Allison track is the even-eighths “Wild Man on the Loose” from the album of the same name with Earl May and Paul Motian (1965).
An obscure pianist named John Coates Jr., who Jarrett heard locally growing up around Allentown, especially at the Dear Head Inn, was a significant influence. Coates didn’t record anything resembling countrified piano until some years after Jarrett was a star. Certain tracks from The Jazz Piano of John Coates Jr. (1974) are appallingly similar to Jarrett. However, the story is not that clear, people argue about whether Coates changed his style to be more like his student or not. On Portrait, the 1956 Coates trio disc with Wendell Marshall and Kenny Clarke, the music is normal piano jazz without much personality. If Coates somehow had beat his peers to the punch and was starting to play in a simpler, more Mose Allison/Vince Guaraldi direction before Jarrett left town in 1963, then the influence is very literal indeed.
“White boy blues.” I’m not sure if “white” is really a fair word. Whatever you want to call it, songwriters like Bob Dylan and Lennon/McCartney offered slightly syncopated even-eighth songs that exploded everywhere there was a jukebox or a radio receiver.
It was a hard moment for many great jazz musicians. In the essential book of interviews by Arthur Taylor, Notes and Tones, many African-American giants are dismissive of the Beatles. Some of that is simply race-related, the jazz masters aren’t willing to accept rhythmic know-how from white English musicians. (Many of these same musicians had accepted Gilberto, Jobim, and bossa nova just a few years earlier. Bossa nova offered a clave instead of a backbeat, which also ties into Brazilians being people of color with a large African influence in their music.)
However, the whole tradition of working on repertoire was also under attack. Jazz giants were accustomed to taking hit songs that didn’t have much syncopation in the melody — or, indeed, much of specific rhythmic feel attached — and making them swing. They were also used to personalizing the harmonic information of hit songs with more color tones. Jazz greats had no problem taking up circa-1965 hits “The Shadow of Your Smile” by Johnny Mandel or “On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)” by Burton Lane, for those songs were easily malleable within the jazz tradition.
Mandel and Lane are one thing, but Bob Dylan or Lennon/McCartney are something else. To take on Dylan or the Beatles, you need other tools, tools that are not from the conventional jazz tradition.
Nobody in this Jarrett trio is condescending to Dylan or the Byrds. Charlie Haden began as hillbilly country musician, he always liked simple songs. Paul Motian had already recorded in this kind of genre with Mose Allison, and a year after this date he joined Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock.
Jarrett talks about hearing Motian with both Lowell Davidson and Mose Allison. Of course, Motian played with Bill Evans and Paul Bley as well. This bears restating: Jarrett heard Motian with four pianists, Bill Evans, Paul Bley, Mose Allison, and Lowell Davidson. That’s a pretty big puzzle piece, for one can hear all four of those pianists in Jarrett’s final conception.
— Pretty Ballad. The Bill Evans influence returns, pairs with “Love No. 1” above. It’s not so easy to write a piece that sounds like a conventional jazz standard, none of Jarrett’s originals in this style have ever stuck in my mind.
— Moving Soon. A noisy free bit. The melody has a blur of atonality followed by a touch of Albert Ayler-esque hymn.
— Somewhere Before. A few phrases sound like a rollicking Tin Pan Alley tune from the ’30s, interspersed with self-consciously “weird” moments. This is a bit like Jaki Byard, someone Jarrett definitely listened to. The improvising is loose, Haden and Motian are actually more engaging than the pianist, and the head out is full on shouting pianism like Erroll Garner — or rather Garner to Byard to Jarrett.
— New Rag. More cheerful swing. Nice melody, a kind of basic approach gone a bit “wrong,” one of Jarrett’s best tunes from the first two trio records. During the blowing, the Paul Bley references are almost too strong, especially at this medium bounce tempo. It’s basically Bley’s Footloose! with a different rhythm section.
— A Moment for Tears. Haden picks up the bow for what at first seems to be a Hollywood movie theme from Johnny Mercer or Alex North. However the sounds settle into the first — but hardly the last — exploration of a single diatonic key. Nice piece, foreshadowing certain Weather Report ballads a few years hence.
— Pout’s Over (And The Day’s Not Through). An attempt to write a folk rock tune for jazz blowing. Gary Burton was an important pioneer of this concept, who also intelligently imported Michael Gibbs to give an authentic British Invasion feel. Paul Winter was doing some of this also; an early version of the Paul Winter Consort had Cecil McBee on bass, who would join Jarrett in the Charles Lloyd group, which of course helped define “jazz for hippies.”
— Dedicated to You. Sammy Cahn’s torch song gets a nice reading. Bill Evans is naturally the reference. Jarrett’s lines can be almost too scalar at this stage, but he was still so young. He’d dig in deeper later. In some ways, Jarrett is most impressive simply by being so relaxed and comfortable with such a challenging rhythm section comprised of elders. Haden in particular takes no prisoners, even on an old Sammy Cahn ballad. All praise Charlie Haden.
— Old Rag. Jarrett loved Scott Joplin and could play stride piano, there’s a remarkable bootleg of him dealing out a fast striding “Liza” on tour with Charles Lloyd. “Old Rag” is less like Joplin and more like the novelty rags of Zez Confrey. Again, this is also Jaki Byard territory.
James P. Johnson helped invent the style heard on “Old Rag.” In 1947, Art Hodes asked Johnson to weigh in on the new style of bebop for The Jazz Record. James P. wrote, “The jazz musician of the future will have to be able to play all different kinds of jazz — just like the classical musicians who, in one concert, might range from Bach to Copland.” Keith Jarrett was two years old at the time.
The Mourning of a Star (1971).
After an important stint with Miles Davis, Jarrett returned to the studios with Haden and Motian two years later. Jarrett was a virtuoso jazz pianist, but he didn’t seem that interested in showcasing those abilities as a leader. Various Lloyd uptempo jazz piano features like “Autumn Leaves,” “East of the Sun” and so forth remain some of the most durable moments of the Lloyd-Jarrett years, but almost none of that style shows up on Jarrett’s own records with Haden and Motian.
Jarrett must have reasoned, “Enough of fast jazz.” Also, “Enough of electric music,” which was at that time in full ascent everywhere else. Working with Miles Davis had taught Jarrett that he didn’t like to plug in.
Jarrett was interested in folk music, in vocal expression, in the avant garde. So he doubled down on a kind of anti-virtuosity. Charlie Haden and Paul Motian were totally idiosyncratic players. Haden was already there, Motian was growing fast. Rather than celebrate his own pianism further, Jarrett decided he needed a rough-hewn voice as the lead voice: Dewey Redman, the soulful tenor saxophonist who came to prominence with Ornette Coleman just a couple of years earlier.
The three LPs for Atlantic proper (not for the subsidiary Vortex) were all made at the same sessions. In some ways the trio music without Redman, collected on The Mourning of a Star, is the least interesting, but there are still worthy tracks.
— Follow the Crooked Path (Though it Be Longer). Jarrett is definitely not looking for a larger audience yet, for the LP begins with a chaos piece. Not satisfied with their normal instruments, both Motian and Jarrett take turns playing steel drums and other percussion. This is a waste of time — until perhaps near the end when two steel drummers work in some kind of harmony against Haden’s ostinato patterns. A concluding touch of soprano sax foreshadows much more straight horn in Jarrett’s future…
The other keyboardist present during Jarrett’s time with Miles Davis was Chick Corea, who was four years senior to Jarrett. The parallels and divergences between Jarrett and Corea are a fascinating topic, beginning with how Miles Davis put them both on the bandstand simultaneously.
The Mourning of a Star pairs neatly with Corea’s trio album from the same year, A.R.C., featuring Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. While both Jarrett and Corea could play burning and comparatively accessible jazz piano (Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs from two years earlier essentially defines the idiom), at this moment the young turks were convinced that noisy avant-garde music was the answer. In addition to a bunch of reasonably discordant originals, there’s one cover: Jarrett plays Joni Mitchell (“All I Want”) and Corea plays Wayne Shorter (“Nefertiti”), repertoire choices that instantly explains something about the fundamental harmonic differences between the two pianists.
At around the same time, both Jarrett and Corea added a black horn to a white trio: Jarrett got Redman, Corea got Anthony Braxton, which also explains something about something.
Both pianists were important to Manfred Eicher and the brand-new ECM label. Both broke through to a larger audience a year or two after these noisy trio albums by ditching atonality and playing more like rock and pop music: Corea with Return to Forever, and Jarrett with the solo concerts.
The number of styles these two great pianists sifted through during the five year stretch of 1967 — 72 is almost bewildering. From this distance their search has a bit of a frantic and unsettled air about it. At any rate, the shared-but-different trajectory of Jarrett and Corea is one indication of how jazz splintered into so many different areas after Coltrane.
(****) — Interlude No. 3. Of the improvised interludes, the solo piano one is by far the best. It’s beautiful, too bad it isn’t at least twice as long. This harmonic language is on the Herbie Hancock to Joe Zawinul spectrum, but Keith’s touch and general attitude is more like European classical music.
Again, there’s an interesting comparison with Corea, for both tracked important ECM solo recitals the same year. In April 1971, Corea recorded Piano Improvisations, in November Jarrett produced Facing You.
It’s beginning to feel like a Beach Boys vs. the Beatles kind of competition! Sorry, Mr. Corea, Facing You is far greater than Piano Improvisations, Jarrett won that round at a walk. (While duking it out, the kids provoked the interest of their father, Paul Bley, who recorded his own definitive statement for ECM a year later, Open to Love.)
— Standing Outside. A nice folk-rock original. There’s overdubbed percussion from Jarrett himself, which distracts from Motian’s propulsion.
— Everything That Lives Laments. The first truly durable Jarrett original on record is an unforgettable F minor dirge. A hint of blues nestles up against romantic chords and a quasi-Bach cadence. The blowing is regrettably just noisy texture; a better recording of this tune wlll come later with Dewey Redman.
— Interlude No. 1. Jarrett plays recorder during the intro over other random sounds, in the tradition of the AACM and associated offshoots, which had added “little instruments” into the mix in the 60s.
(****) — Trust. When Jarrett finally sits down at the piano, the trio is really beginning to gel. The melody is attractive, but rather than sit in mellow zone, the improvising is free form. Jarrett has matured and is accessing something deeper and more fluid than on the two earlier records. Paul Motian has developed his churn as well. Haden was already perfect, but now his partners are complementing him on a high level. This is a special track, and should be better known.
— All I Want. Like the cover of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” this version of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” is fairly straight-up, in this case even merely a tribute, for there are no solos. Mitchell’s Blue had dropped a serious bomb on musicians everywhere, and this short track documents some of the immediate aftershocks: In this case truly immediate, for Mitchell’s LP had only been in the stores a few weeks when The Mourning of a Star was recorded. (One of my pet theories: “Jarrett’s The Köln Concert is Joni Mitchell meets a virtuoso of European piano.”)
— Traces of You. Jarrett stays on soprano sax for the duration of this Ornette-y number. Charlie and Paul sound so great. Jarrett sounds good too, although there is rarely an argument that he should be playing sax instead of piano — with one exception, “Mortgage on My Soul” below.
— The Mourning of a Star. The conceptual structure of this suite is sophisticated and shows an unexpected side of Jarrett’s compositional prowess. The A section is another folk-rock piece before flowing into B, something new, where the piano takes on something droning and repetitive from gospel music. We’ve landed here at last: This would become one of Jarrett’s signature effects. In the first iteration it is genuinely exciting, they almost could have stayed there longer, which is about the last time I’d say that about a Jarrett gospel vamp. A and B return, but utterly deconstructed: the “mourning” of the fallen “star.” Jarrett gave up on planning this kind of compositional journey, perhaps it felt artificial, or simply too hard to wrangle the rhythm section for such a complicated form. Still, an important track that remains unique.
— Interlude no. 2. I wonder what these great musicians thought of these noisy interludes when listening later. Some of it is just 1971 I guess. Where’s the bong?
— Sympathy. A somewhat normal ballad lacks direction. Maybe another voice could steer this kind of ship correctly…
There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Dewey Redman.
— Birth. Like “Sympathy” just above, “Birth” is also a somewhat normal ballad, but Redman’s passionate statement of the melody instantly transforms the ensemble. “Birth” is right: Birth of a fresh aesthetic. Redman doesn’t do more than play the melody here, but it surely enough.
(****) — Mortgage on My Soul. Haden puts his bass through a wah-wah pedal and Motian deals out an undulating rock beat. Jarrett’s funky tune is memorable. A classic track, and the one place where the soprano sax is required.
— Spirit. For the special effect pieces, Redman will usually break out his musette, something unique on the “blues avant-grade rooted untethered esoteric vernacular exotic indigenous east-west” continuum. It was even more impressive live than on record.
— Markings. On clarinet, Redman reads down a short completely–notated piece without bass and drums. Really pretty great — there could have been more Jarrett music like this.
(****) — Forget Your Memories (and They’ll Remember You). Naturally, the freer, more Ornette-y repertoire also takes on new gravity with Redman in the front line. The melodies are phrased together in the sax and piano, but there’s a charismatic looseness as well. Great piano solo, great tenor solo, perfect bass and drums. This is what I’m talkin’ about.
— Remorse. Jarrett picks up the banjo and improvises against bass, clarinet, and percussion. When the steel drums come back, I lose interest. Too many steel drums on the Atlantic trilogy!
El Juicio (1971).
— Gypsy Moth. A folk-rock groove continues for some time in the trio, building tension. Compare with an earlier tune like “Pout’s Over (And The Day’s Not Through)”: Jarrett has figured out that the fewer moving chords in these forms, the better. When Redman finally comes in on alto it works, the melody has short chant phrases that resolve in unexpected ways. Naturally the alto solo is brilliant, Redman and Haden play together in delighted counterpoint. Not sure if Jarrett needed to play tambourine, but it’s not too distracting.
— Toll Road. An Ornette-related piece, with Jarrett on soprano throughout. Reportedly the other members didn’t like it when Jarrett played soprano, they’d hide it from him on tour and so forth. I don’t mind it, but he’s certainly not going to beat Dewey Redman in this free context with Charlie Haden listening carefully.
(****) — Pardon My Rags. While the “rags” on Somewhere Before might stump a long-time Jarrett listener who doesn’t know the early years, “Pardon My Rags” is obviously Jarrett. The flow, especially at this speed, is unique. In 1971, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams, Thelonious Monk and Eubie Blake were all still alive. More than Chick Corea — and also more than the slightly older Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner — Jarrett made new music when resolutely interfacing with the two-fisted tradition of stride piano. “Starbright” from Facing You is another good example.
A worthy companion piece to “Pardon My Rags” and “Starbright” is Ron Carter’s “One Bass Rag” from Pastels (1976) with Kenny Barron on piano. Carter and Barron are two of the greatest, but their attempt to go back to the old days is just a shade square. Jarrett is comparatively unforced, almost silly, certainly joyous.
— Pre-Judgement Atmosphere. A noise improvisation on little instruments.
— El Jucio. A free piece for trio that explicitly explores changing triad tonality in the piano solo. Frankly, the melodic bass solo says more than the pianist here. The singing against the bass is a lift from Haden’s own work with the Liberation Music Orchestra.
— Piece for Ornette (L.V.) At this time, Redman and Haden were playing with Ornette Coleman as well as Keith Jarrett. The Coleman music is more pure and beautiful overall, although the Jarrett group was still finding its way and would produce more extraordinary music in the next stages. I like “Piece for Ornette” with Jarrett on soprano very much…up until the point that I remember that I could be listening to one of the bootlegs of Ornette, Dewey, Charlie, and Ed Blackwell on tour from the same year.
— Piece for Ornette (S. V.) Just the tune played by the two horns.
The Atlantic sessions should have been ruthlessly reduced to one LP instead of producing three. It could have been a classic album if the set list had simply been: “Trust,” “Mourning of a Star” “Birth,” “Mortgage on My Soul,” “Markings,” “Forget Your Memories (and They’ll Remember You),” “Gypsy Moth,” and “Pardon My Rags.”
Jarrett kept expanding forces. For some reason Columbia signed off on a 2-LP set with the core quartet augmented by guitarist Sam Brown, percussionist Airto Moreira, and both strings and brass — before unceremoniously dropping Jarrett from the label almost immediately after. Ironically, for many years the hardest Jarrett LP to find in the used bins was the one on the biggest label, Columbia.
— Vision. A short fragment, a few string chords with piano fills.
— Common Mama. A good funk bass line with fun brass shouts and intense solos from Jarrett and Redman.
— The Magician in You. Brown doubles the banal melody with Jarrett and plays other guitar stuff. The congas are quite loud in the mix, the pianist doesn’t let up when the guitarist begins to solo, everything seems a bit disorganized. This composition sounds like a leftover from the previous session with Sam Brown, not covered in this overview, Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett.
(****) — Roussillon. A free piece. Jarrett plays the head on soprano, but then takes a burning solo on piano. Redman enters with his trademark screaming through the horn while playing. This is great music.
— Expectations. Haden gets the lead on a normal jazz ballad. The strings have a somewhat Hollywood sound. Compares unfavorably with most of the Bill Evans/Claus Ogerman collaborations.
— Take Me Back. Rock music was a key influence, thus we have Sam Brown’s distorted tone over a simple vamp and Paul Motian’s backbeat. After the vamp, a syncopated theme foreshadows Pat Metheny. Rare to hear Motian play syncopated hits so literally, he must be being directed to behave this way. It’s just all little too on the nose for my own taste, I much prefer the sardonic style of “Mortgage on My Soul” above.
— The Circular Letter (for J.K.). A very simple and repetitive free theme works well. With two horns and guitar, the texture recalls moments in Charles Ives when a melody appears through chaos. Ornette Coleman’s beautiful ballad “Broken Shadows” is also a relevant reference.
— Nomads. A side-long (over 17 minutes) centerpiece features some surprising complex brass cues over an ominous vamp. This track is where Jarrett sounds most like his peers: While Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, or Joe Zawinul would never dare to hire Paul Motian and Charlie Haden to play a funk groove, some of the added-note harmony employed in the first few minutes with horns and guitar was circa-1971 information shared by everybody who played with Miles Davis. This is the one occasion when Jarrett played a few organ chords with Haden and Motian, a texture that also suggests Davis. Regrettably, the composition is not that memorable.
— Sundance. A fast gospel riff in the piano kicks things off. Jarrett overdubs soprano for the head. One of the best Sam Brown performances, going for some skronk with Motian and Haden somewhere between a groove and chaos.
(****) — Bring Back the Time When (If). A good theme, a space between a normal piano tune and the Ornette thing. The scalding tenor solo is Redman at his most Albert Ayler-esque. Nice misterioso ending with unexpected soft final piano chord. The band is coming together.
(****) — There is a Road (God’s River). No drums on this one, it’s Jarrett, Brown, Haden, and string section. The pianist begins with a rich rumination that evolves into a full gospel cry; nobody else can play like this. The contrasting theme, full orchestra chords behind Brown’s rock guitar, is distinctive and powerful. Both Jarrett’s biographer Ian Carr and pianist Kenny Werner have singled out this track as something special. It might be Jarrett’s most impressive piece for piano plus orchestra. If the set had opened with “There is a Road” instead of hidden it at the back, maybe this album would be better known today.
Indeed, side 4 is the best music on Expectations overall. If I had been in charge, I would have reversed the order of tracks, nixed most of sides 2 and 3, replaced “The Magician in You” with “The Circular Letter (for J.K.).” and put out a strong single LP.
Fort Yawuh (1973).
Two years have passed, but things were moving fast for Jarrett, especially thanks to a new relationship with ECM. In a frenzy of activity, the quartet (and guests) recorded 10 LPs in four years, mostly for Impulse! and a coda for ECM. This is the most classic music from the grouping of Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Motian. There are more hits than misses, and the best of it will stand the test of time. The run begins with a live session at the Village Vanguard.
(****) — (If the) Misfits (Wear It). A drone on G finally gives away to a cheerful melody in what is now the house style. In the piano solo, a lot of harmony — even bebop harmony — lurks beneath the disjunct surface. Redman’s solo is also memorably fervent. Percussionist Danny Johnson rattles various things: Pure “Love-In” free jazz. Jarrett plays piano on the opening head and the improvisation, but breaks out the soprano for the final melody. This works.
— Fort Yawuh. A dramatic minor ballad. The way Redman plays the tune makes the composition better than it is. The piano solo is virtuosic over a broken even-eighths feel. Jarrett plays on the changes, but Redman takes it free and tells his story on musette. The coda is something else, Redman screams through his horn, then Jarrett gives a long repeating phrase in thirds, just like Philip Glass.
— De Drums. D-flat ostinato. Funky piano, some amazing phrases, but I feel kind of bad for Haden stuck in that loop for so many minutes. Finally the groove changes to a shuffle, the only shuffle this band played on record. Not sure it works — at any rate, “De Drums” has always been my least favorite track on this disc. Admittedly, some people love it.
— Still Life, Still Life. One of the pieces that contain a suite. The opening piano intro is more like European classical music than any previous jazz pianist. When the bass and drums join in jazz ballad time, the affect still has a bit of Evans, but the astounding freedom of the right hand lines is only Jarrett. Redman enters to play a new rubato melody. The reference seems to be John Coltrane, almost like the opening to “Crescent,” but Jarrett writes quite a long form, hard to follow by ear, but effective nonetheless. The ending is odd, the bass starts and then the track suddenly ends. Perhaps an uncomfortable edit, or perhaps Haden is just getting final say.
Treasure Island (1974).
This is the only Jarrett Impulse! disc that has truly finished quality, where a lot of production time was obviously put into making a fancy package replete with a gatefold cover and a terrible poem from Jarrett:
The treasure has always been there
It is not hidden
But is only where certain people would look
Thus it remains a secret to the rest…
(****) — The Rich (and the Poor). This slow gospel beat is a one-of-kind experience. Motian plays no cymbal, just bass drum and snare. Space and light. Finally Redman comes in with a new rubato melody. Engineer Tony May knew how to record this band, Treasure Island is by far the best sounding of any of these LPs so far.
— Blue Streak. More bluesy beat, this time with a superb Redman solo.
(****) — Fullsuvollivus (Fools of All of Us) A free piece. Jarrett is now writing melodies and improvising abstract music that is less indebted to Ornette Coleman and Paul Bley. This tune has a cheerful blockiness that suggests a TV theme gone wrong. Great solos from the pianist and the saxist, while the bass and drums couldn’t be more perfect.
— Treasure Island. Brings Sam Brown back into the mix for something a bit more on the singer-songwriter tip. This kind of writing certainly foreshadows the kind of Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays tune that loops around upon itself.
— Introduction/Yaqui Indian Folk Song. Short diatonic exploration. Nothing wrong with it but not that memorable either.
— Le Mistral. Gospel for a while, but then the new vamp suggests Wayne Shorter or something more in the mainstream of modern jazz circa 1974. Percussionists Guilherme Franco and Danny Johnson don’t always add that much to the band but they make sense here. Jarrett offers some blinding “etude” moments in his improvisation.
— Angles (Without Edges) An unusual feel, with piano and bass doubling a lurching kind of texture. A fast free thing follows. The solos sort of follow the form, lurching vamp, then open. One of the percussionists sets off weird toys during the piano solo, that’s pretty great. Charlie Haden is nice and loud in the mix. Again, Tony May knew how to record this band.
— Sister Fortune. Sam Brown’s last appearance is on a reasonably straight folk-rock number. I like what Brown plays on Paul Motian’s Tribute, and he was an important link in the chain on the way to Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell; however the impression remains that we didn’t get “Sam Brown at his best” documented on LP properly.
Back Hand and Death and the Flower were recorded at the same sessions. They naturally have great moments, but overall they are the least of the ’73–76 Impulse! sequence, and don’t seem to build on the best parts of Fort Yawuh and Treasure Island.
— Inflight. Uptempo E-flat gospel set up. The tune is okay, Redman is Redman, but overall this is a lesser example of this genre. Jarrett plays some jazz chords behind Redman, that’s a comparatively rare occurrence. More interesting is how Haden follows Jarrett around harmonically in the later piano improvisation.
— Kuum. Jarrett plays wood flute and the rest of the band explores extended techniques. Guilherme Franco obviously enjoys these moments. Redman’s musette eventually adds some heft, but, still, not a keeper.
(****) — Vapallia. Much better is this beautiful space ballad, first heard as a solo piece on Facing You.
I admire the other saxophonist who played Jarrett’s music, Jan Garbarek, but I never could fully accept the Scandinavian quartet after having pledged allegiance to the Americans.
“Vapallia” is perfect example. The emotion of the composition borders on the saccharine, but Redman’s sonority and simple horn fills work as a salty agent, balancing out the elements, creating something mysterious. Garbarek hears the world more like Jarrett does. Garbarek agrees, Garbarek reinforces whatever Jarrett is trying to do. Redman (and Haden and Motian) don’t always agree with Jarrett, they put something else on the music.
This isn’t to say that Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen aren’t fabulous musicians. They certainly are; among other things, Garbarek, Danielsson and Christensen all play free very well. The European quartet has been more generally influential than the American quartet, perhaps because it is much easier to emulate.
— Back Hand. An amusingly square stomp, quite strange in affect. Almost like “Pardon My Rags” but for grunting quartet. Jarrett plays on the lurching form, but then they open for some straight swing for Redman. It’s a little unsettled — this might be the first time the band is actually playing Jazz with a capital J. Motian in particular seems almost taken aback. Redman plays on the changes — more or less, this is not what he’s used to, either. However there is amazing potential here, the band is just starting this era of swing.
Death and the Flower (1974).
— Death and the Flower. The longest studio track is a suite. 1. Various harmless percussion noises. 2. Haden in duo with himself, overdubbed. 3. Piano on top of the basses, the Spanish scale, Motian’s gong periodically goes off in the background. 4. A proper jazz progression appears, Motian finds the sultry beat, and Redman improvises. (Dewey sounds good on these changes.) 5. Jarrett and Haden take turns on the form at a softer dynamic level, Guilherme Franco gets to shine as well. 6. Unison melody on the chord sequence. 7. The flower closes in C major with pulsating rhythm.
— Prayer. G minor duet for piano and bass. By this time Jarrett had started doing solo concerts, the ECM records were making an impact, he was on his way the commercial breakthrough The Köln Concert next year. “Prayer” is proto-Köln in simplicity of statement. Indeed, I believe neither Jarrett nor Haden leave the G minor scale once while improvising together. At the time this probably sounded fresher than it does now.
— Great Bird. Jarrett overdubs either soprano or piano throughout. Like “Prayer,” fairly uneventful modal improv, although both Redman and Haden try out “wrong” notes once in a while. The rhythm section is terribly disorganized, at times Franco is just too busy for anything to make sense. One of the faster themes is recycled in “The Survivor’s Suite” below.
Following the pattern, both Mysteries and Shades were recorded at the same session, in this case December ’75.
The Köln Concert took place in January ’75. A hit record changes things. The rest of the quartet music will operate in Köln’s longer and longer shadow, which is too bad, for this quartet of idiosyncratic personalities has finally found its way to being masterful nearly all of the time.
(****) — Rotation. A valuable original, stop and start, some jazz, a weird unison bass line that sounds like a police procedural TV theme. The piano solo is so liquid, tonal, and beautiful. The feel is unresolved for Jarrett, but the bass and drums bear down for time behind Redman.
Motian has been excellent so far, but in 1975 something changes, he’s now one of the greatest drummers of all time.
In the realm of total speculation: Haden and Redman may have been resistant to playing open 4/4 swing (with no preset changes) with Jarrett and Motian at first, wanting to reserve that most special space for the gigs with Ornette Coleman and Ed Blackwell. Motian told me about how impressed he was with that Coleman-Redman-Haden-Blackwell quartet when he got to see them at Slugs’. First, Motian studied Jimmy Crawford in order to swing, then he studied Max Roach and Kenny Clarke in order to play bebop, then he studied Sunny Murray in order to play free, and finally he studied Ed Blackwell in order to play free in time.
By 1975, both Haden and Redman might have guessed (accurately) that the gigs with Coleman were done, perhaps for good. At any rate, some agreement was made, and open swing in 4/4 became part of the Jarrett band language. When Haden and Motian swing out behind Redman on “Rotation,” the feel is perfect.
The sound is so great, too, I just love how these last four Impulse sessions sound. Unusually, producer Esmond Edwards and engineer Tony May were both African-American.
(****) — Everything Lives Laments. One of Jarrett’s best themes returns for a soulful exploration.
— Flame. Flute and musette intertwine over a powerful groove. One of the best “special effect” pieces.
(****) — Mysteries. A rich rubato ballad, declaimed as only Redman can, who then finds all the right notes in a simple yet exceptional improvisation. Jarrett plays far more notes in his solo, but there’s still something simple, even childlike, in his fast phrases. Haden’s statement is also sincere, hooking up with the pianist at magical moments. A long coda on a single lydian sonority is almost terrible, but they beat the odds and make it work. When Franco sets off the party percussion it is somehow totally correct. The band is there. This is the right music.
(****) — Shades of Jazz. Talk about a goddamn classic. First of all, the tune is hilarious, a kind of “wrong” grouping of standard jazz harmony. It’s Jarrett’s earlier “Old Rag” all grown up. The piano solo is on these changes — more or less: I’m not totally sure if there’s a precisely repeating form or not, maybe Haden is just announcing various important moves. After another head, Redman has a say, and the form definitely goes open. Whether it was with Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, or Old and New Dreams, Redman and Haden improvising harmony together at tempo is the highest expression of intuition and listening. Due praise for Motian as well, who no longer needs to take a seat behind Ed Blackwell when playing this style with Haden and Redman. Motian can sit next to Blackwell now.
(****) — Southern Smiles. On the LP there’s a quick cut to the next song, a special effect that I haven’t liked for over 30 years. However “Southern Smiles” is one of the Jarrett’s best folk-rock-gospel numbers, joyous and unrestrained. Great piano solo, lyrical and free, pretty much inside the changes. Redman takes a different tack, offering an effusive solo that does a certain amount of ignoring Jarrett’s chords. It’s “wrong” but oh so right. Haden almost manages the same effect in the bass solo.
Again, the Scandinavians would play Jarrett’s music “as is.” The Americans — especially Redman and Haden — try to erase Jarrett’s sweet and goofy aesthetic while playing the song. The effect is sublime.
(****) — Rose Petals. Oh, baby. What are you doing to me?
Jarrett’s originals are frankly a mixed bag, I never understood people who said he was a great composer. I mean, compared to who? Thelonious Monk? Ornette Coleman? Jerome Kern? Jarrett’s main strength was as an improvisor, not as a composer. Most of Jarrett’s pieces are serviceable gateways into style, better than the average second tier jazz musician, but not much more; surely their “B” level quality is why Jarrett eventually devoted his creative energies to trio standards or totally improvised solo concerts. God touched Keith Jarrett on the shoulder and gave him almost every gift but two: humility, and the ability to write a bunch of memorable tunes.
However, the best of Jarrett’s originals land. The most worthy tunes for horn are heard in these ’75 Impulse sessions. “Rose Petals” requires no defense: The opening melody is perfect, a blend of stately and crunchy. Oh baby, what are you doing to me?
(Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Bob Hurst, and Jeff Watts recorded an 11-minute version of “Rose Petals” in 1990.)
(****) — Diatribe. The masterworks continue with the band at their most deconstructed. Haden goes all in with the bow, and the expanded percussion section is hilarious. Jarrett bangs around: he is so much better at this now than he was at the beginning, the pitches are more controlled, the phrases connect. And Dewey Redman is there, screaming through his horn. Everything Redman plays links the deepest blues to the most esoteric avant-garde.
The Survivor’s Suite (1976).
In the spring the band toured Europe and recorded twice for Manfred Eicher. For many, this studio ECM recording is the finest of Jarrett, Redman, Haden, and Motian together. Paul Motian told me himself that he thought this band got to where it was trying to go on The Survivor’s Suite.
In what is clearly a minority opinion, I am less enthusiastic. I find the standalone Jarrett originals from the December ’75 sessions considerably more compelling than this long suite of less distinctive material.
— The Survivor’s Suite (Beginning). The LP begins with a flute and little instruments overture, before a G minor tune in 5/4. None of these musicians are particularly noted for mixed meter, but they sound good. Redman gets a say on this topic…
….then a new form emerges, rubato, fast chords, dominant to tonic in unexpected ways, easily the best composition of the suite. Jarrett doubles the harmonies on celeste; this LP must have some of the most overdubs on this page. Jarrett’s solo is characteristically brilliant, and the melody is beautiful as well. When Redman blows over the form, it’s another example of one the quartet’s most distinctive images, Redman blowing freely against Jarrett’s triads. Just the best….
…The next tune begins with bass as lead. Haden blows as well, before Redman comes in to sings out the F-sharp minor melody. This is good example of a lesser Jarrett melody, the composer wants it to mean more than it does; if he didn’t have Redman and Haden on board, it would be quite flat. Jarrett blows, Haden finishes out the side. The tune ends on a “surprise” key, A-flat major, an effect associated with Bill Evans, but also going back to Red Garland and Bud Powell as well.
— The Survivor’s Suite (Conclusion). A-flat is picked up on side B with a righteous churn beginning with A-flat to A in the bass. This is the last time the band plays the noisy avant-garde, and it’s a good example. Motian takes a great solo, well-recorded, perhaps this extended feature was one reason Motian he told me he liked this record….
…. A-flat lydian to A dorian returns, but now as even-eighth groove with arco bass overdubbed. I’m suspicious of this progression, it’s neither complex nor soulful: Another example of Jarrett the composer at his weakest. (Pat Metheny clearly disagrees with me, his mega-hit “Phase Dance” is built on a similar progression.) The pianist blows at virtuosic level…
…and a new tonal tune with changes breaks out over the same groove. Jarrett, Redman, and Haden all blow….
….time for some soprano saxophone musings over assorted noises, before Jarrett is left alone. He sounds good in his soprano cadenza…
….a reprise of the opening churn theme that opened side B….
….Naturally, a big tune completes the suite, with the pianist rolling and writhing under the sax. Diminuendo to close, a single flute note.
It’s an ambitious suite, and even if not all of ideas by the composer are equally strong, the music is held together by a band language that had developed over several years. Manfred Eicher and Martin Wieland produce typically excellent sonic results.
Eyes of the Heart (1976).
It is all too easy to criticize Jarrett for a huge ego: the fact that he plays so much soprano saxophone next to Dewey Redman tells that story clearly enough. Jarrett also seems to think everything he does is great, which is certainly not true.
However, Jarrett also understands something very deep about the vulnerability of music making. He is not armored around his associates, the way someone like Chick Corea (for one) seems to be. Whatever happens, happens. People play whatever they want. His bandmates can make mistakes. Jarrett can make them, too. Some of those mistakes are on the concert LP Eyes of the Heart. Some of the triumphs made possible by being vulnerable are present as well.
— Eyes of the Heart (Part One). Jarrett wants to play like The Köln Concert and the other members aren’t interested.
(****) — Eyes of the Heart (Part Two). After 1973 or so, much of Jarrett’s work, especially the solo piano improvisations, are connected to formal music with modal repeating structures. Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Arvo Pärt, there’s a long list. It is a testament to the power of his vast pianistic personality that Jarrett sounds like Jarrett no matter the harmonic content.
In the second part of “Eyes of the Heart,” Jarrett plays a long repeating vamp. This is true minimalism. Finally the band comes in, the flood gates open. Dewey Redman plays a truly remarkable couple of minutes of modal saxophone over chaotic band. There’s nothing else like it. A peak in the music.
(****) — Encore (a) Jarrett writes another gospel vamp, one of his best. Motian almost takes over the performance, playing extraordinary aggressive things with two brushes. The left hand of the pianist stays in sync with Haden despite some outrageous right hand rhythms. It’s pure magic.
(****) — Encore (b) An uptempo piece in the Ornette Coleman vein. Redman plays a wonderful solo full of amazing harmonic mind-melds with Haden. The closing union tenor/bass “F” is unreal. I’ve got to be totally honest here: Jarrett’s soprano sax solo is also great.
— Encore (c) Solo piano. If you want a metaphor: The Köln Concert has triumphed over the American Quartet.
The band was over, but Jarrett filled out his Impulse! contract with final sessions to make two more LPs. He asked the members to contribute repertoire. Esmond Edwards and Tony May are producing again at Generation Studios, with a remix credit to Barney Perkins. The albums sound great. (Trivia: Manfred Eicher liked Generation Studio and Tony May as well; Kenny Wheeler’s Gnu High and other several other excellent ECM mid-’70s releases used Generation Studio and Tony May.)
(****) — Byablue. This album is mostly Paul Motian tunes including one his best, the title piece, a free blues of immense charisma. The wonderful solos are “bluesy in G-Flat” and work perfectly.
— Konya. Jarrett’s meditative melody for saxes and gongs.
(****) — Rainbow. Margot Jarrett contributes a piece for trio, a Bill Evans-style waltz. I heard Mulgrew Miller cue up this track on the radio one time as his favorite Keith Jarrett solo. There are some fairly extraordinary fast piano runs later on in the performance. Motian’s gong goes off in unexpected places, while Haden sounds like he wishes he could have played music like this with Jarrett more often.
— Trieste. Jarrett and Motian duet together before Redman comes in with Motian’s melody. The tremolos Jarrett is playing are very hard to do so quickly and evenly. When Jarrett choses to reference the Lisztian romantic piano literature, it is always an unforced effect. The solos are in ballad time.
—- Fantasm. A short chromatic melody winds around. Recalls “Markings” above.
— Yahllah. Soprano and sax and musette intertwine, various episodes. Manfred Eicher had begun to support Motian as a composer and as leader in 1972 with the album Conception Vessel. Eicher told me that he thought Motian’s melodies had an Armenian flavor, which can possibly be heard on “Yahllah.”
— Byablue. A solo piano version of the opening Motian tune.
The run concludes on a high note.
(****) — Mushi Mushi. Redman hasn’t really gone into the history books as a significant composer, and more’s the pity, for his two heads on Bop-Be are fabulous. They aren’t more than a gateway into free blowing in tempo like something by Ornette Coleman, but each phrase is gorgeous. Frankly they are both a little deeper than Jarrett’s contribution to this genre. However, I seriously doubt Redman gave the pianist those incredible bitonal chords that support the freewheeling melody. There are no chords for any Coleman head, so these Jarrett spikes give the aesthetic something totally new.
(****) — Silence. Haden’s first contribution is one of his most significant pieces, a superficially simple chorale with chords borrowed from a late 19th-century European composer. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” also hovers in the background.
— Bop-be. A swinging trio original from Jarrett, AABA, in F, with an A section that has the changes to Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” It’s obviously an attempt at relatively straight bebop.
Jarrett and bebop is a provocative topic. Famously, Jarrett had never heard a note of Bud Powell at the time of his first DownBeat blindfold test. I believe this is less damning of Jarrett then merely indicative of how fast the music was moving forward.
The rubicon was Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and Kind of Blue, the LP that opened the floodgates of modality and somewhat obscured the logic of bebop. To some extent the difference was simply rhythmic. In bebop, you can’t play just any note at any time with any accent. Each articulation has to fit a specific language of harmonic tension and release. It’s not obvious; indeed, only a small percentage of the general population of jazz players have ever truly understood it. I possess no deep insights into it myself, but I believe Afro-Cuban logic is important to the phrasing: Billy Hart was the first to suggest to me that the fast, syncopated melodies of bebop emphasized clave more than previously. (However, being a good Afro-Cuban musician does not automatically make one proficient at bebop.)
Afro-Cuban logic is very important to the rhythm section in modal music, but restrictions seem to be lifted in the melodic improvised line. We know Coltrane, Woody Shaw, and many other avatars of modal music practiced scale patterns, and then played those scale patterns freely through the time. It’s very beautiful, but those lines don’t have the built-in rigor of bebop. (Not that Coltrane or Shaw didn’t know bebop, of course. They most certainly did.)
Bill Evans is a big part this conversation. Evans understood bebop, but he also embraced scalar thinking. In tempo, all of his left hand voicings imply a chord scale, and most of his improvised right hand lines fit the same scale. (Jarrett plays in exactly that tradition on Margot Jarrett’s “Rainbow” from this session.) This genre of improvising is quite organized and systematic, and certainly comparatively easy to digest when compared to the strange mysteries of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. Jazz education essentially threw in their lot with chord-scale theory because it was so easy to teach.
Players of Jarrett’s generation began with Kind of Blue, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans, and applied that kind of scalar-thinking to all their lines within a chordal context. Someone like Jarrett, who is a genius, also draws upon a pure melodic impulse, motivic development, and avant-garde/atonal gestures to constantly spice up his “bebop” phrasing. Lennie Tristano was another source: When I mentioned Tristano to Jarrett in our interview, Jarrett said, “Very, very important. As a thinker; the way he could think on his feet. Very, very important. Very important.”
What Jarrett figured out certainly works! But there’s also a tiny hole in the center of Jarrett’s bebop, something not quite right.
“It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.”
The older I get, the more I wish Barry Harris had gotten a fraction of the acclaim and success showered upon Keith Jarrett. The same year as “Bop-be,” Harris tracked Live in Tokyo with Sam Jones and Leroy Williams. In terms of threading bop in 1976, Harris gets an A+, Jarrett gets a B.
Haden and Motian were older than Jarrett and understood bebop better, probably because they actually played with some of the greatest pre-Coltrane and pre-Evans practitioners: Hampton Hawes and Sonny Clark for Haden, Thelonious Monk and Lennie Tristano for Motian. One of the best Bud Powell covers of all time occurred years after the Jarrett American Quartet era, “Oblivion” with Haden, Motian, and Geri Allen in 1989.
I suspect Barry Harris playing with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian would work, while Keith Jarrett playing with Sam Jones and Leroy Williams would not. One of Jarrett’s earliest record dates, Art Blakey’s Buttercorn Lady (1966), shows the prodigy pianist rushing ahead of the master drummer. Jarrett offers plenty of brilliance but nowhere near enough bebop phrasing. By the time of “Bop-be” Jarrett is stronger.
In another few years, Jarrett would start playing the American songbag with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. For my taste, the Standards Trio peaked early, when the chemistry was fresh. At first, the three masters played free through the changes but always landed on their feet. After a few years, Jarrett would bring in more and more bebop repertoire to the Standards Trio. Of course, anything Jarrett does at the piano would always be at a very high level, but — again — when Jarrett plays Benny Golson or Bud Powell tunes there’s a tiny hole in the middle, something not quite right. (I don’t know every record; some claim that at a later date, around the time of the live at the Blue Note box set and after, the standards trio hit their most swinging groove.)
Returning to the Keith Jarrett vs. Chick Corea motif: Corea understood something about bebop that eluded Jarrett. Corea apprenticed with so many more black masters than Jarrett — Mongo Santamaria, Blue Mitchell, Sarah Vaughan, etc. — and undoubtedly would have sounded more comfortable with Blakey in the Buttercorn Lady band.
At times Jarrett may simply just not play enough left hand, whereas Corea is always dancing and punching with his left. Those kinds of left hand conga-derived rhythms are very important for bebop. Too often Jarrett is almost meandering in a single-line fantasy. “Just In Time” from Tribute is particularly good Jarrett at a fast jazz tempo, partly because his left hand is more active and playing more clave.
— Pyramids Moving. A special effect piece nominally credited to Redman, who solos on musette.
The same month as this last Jarrett session, the wonderful new group Old and New Dreams (Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell) recorded their debut album at Generation Studios with Tony May. Old and New Dreams would take up the mantle of special effect pieces featuring Redman’s musette; this group would also ensure there was more of that special Redman-Haden harmony in the canon. For one excellent Old and New Dreams gig in 1986 at Saalfelden, Paul Motian subbed for Ed Blackwell, proving once and for all that Motian really was in the family.
(****) — Gotta Get Some Sleep. The second Redman head is enhanced by virtuoso trills in the piano. The piano solo is my personal favorite Jarrett piano solo of all time, at least in a swing context, while Haden’s unrepentant accompaniment makes my eyes water. It’s basically in C, but Jarrett and Haden listen to each other, leaving and returning as need be. Much of the solo is simply a line, but near the end both hands burst into fireworks. Jarrett closes with a quote of the melody, leading into a solo from Redman that is just as good. Pure magic in the band.
Tom Harrell told me he thought that Bop-be was a masterpiece album and that Motian reminded him of Baby Dodds — that you can hear that old New Orleans parade thing coming though Motian. This NOLA aspect is helped by the slightly compressed yet still wide-open engineering, with some of the loudest bass drum to be found on a jazz record. They backed that off a bit on the CD issues: pick up an old copy of Bop-Be on vinyl and turn up “Gotta Get Some Sleep.” That shit is insane in the drums, especially the bass drum.
(****) — Blackberry Winter. A unique set of circumstance results in a classic one-off. This great Alec Wilder song was brand new, there was not a long performance history yet, and Jarrett must have learned it from the sheet music. The song’s simplicity is informed by 1960’s composers like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell — material Jarrett had covered with Haden and Motian on previous albums — yet the bones of piece are classic AABA like most familiar standards by Richard Rodgers or Jerome Kern. Perfect for Jarrett. Also perfect for Haden, who plays huge melodic half notes as only Haden can. Motian was there next to Bill Evans on some famous ballad performances — “My Foolish Heart” comes to mind — but this trio track is just as deep.
(****) — A Pocket Full of Cherry. Haden’s tribute to Don Cherry (who was probably somewhere nearby — again, the first Old and New Dreams album was recorded in the same studio the same month) is more freewheeling goodness. The fast swinging head with pedals and dominant sequences might recall Thelonious Monk. Jarrett is on soprano. Redman plays at highest level, perfect harmony from Haden, then Jarrett plays a soprano solo with more amazing harmonic convergences with Haden. Motian’s drum solo is pure raucous dance.
Thanks to Vinnie Sperrazza, Matt Mayhall, Josh Redman, Hyland Harris, Steve Cardenas, and Mark Stryker for feedback and corrections.
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