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Music Review: Keith Jarrett – Mysteries / Shades (Impulse 2-on-1)

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With over 100 albums to his credit, Keith Jarrett has always been an incredibly prolific artist. But the 1970s were a particularly fertile time for Mr. Jarrett, as he found success as a bandleader, as a sideman, and as a solo artist. Keith started the decade as a member of Miles Davis’ groundbreaking electric band. His solo Koln Concert double-set for ECM became a huge seller upon release in 1975. But some of the most interesting music he recorded in those years is among his most obscure. Jarrett was signed to the Impulse label from 1973-1977, and released seven recordings with what has come to be known as his “American” quartet.

The quartet consisted of Keith Jarrett (piano), Dewey Redman (sax), Charlie Haden (bass), and Paul Motian (drums), plus a rotating cast of percussionists. As part of the new Impulse 2-on-1 CD series, the albums Mysteries and Shades are now available together on a single disc at a budget price. The pairing is perfect, as both albums came out of the same 1975 sessions, and were later released separately in 1976. Guilherme Franco plays percussion throughout.

Impulse is known as “The House That Trane Built,” in deference to the massive impact of the label’s biggest star, John Coltrane. On Mysteries’ 15:19 title track, the quartet acknowledge the ongoing influence of ’Trane, with a piece not unlike some of his finest mid-sixties work. This is Keith Jarrett’s project however, and his amazing piano improvisational work is always present. He states his case most impressively on the opening “Rotation,” and while Redman is offered plenty of opportunities to blow, Keith is always in command.

Shades also contains four tracks, and is much closer to “straight” jazz, than to the avant-garde, at least most of the time. We begin with “Shades of Jazz,” which takes me back to what is often referred to as Miles Davis’ “second great quintet,” and classic albums such as E.S.P. and Miles Smiles. “Rose Petals” has to be the prettiest song of the eight, for Jarrett’s solo alone. If John Coltrane is the template, I would have to compare this one to his beautiful treatment of the ballad “After The Rain.” As one might infer from the title of the closing track of Shades, “Diatribe” is no pleasant stroll through the park. Redman really lets it fly here, and the rest of the quartet are right behind him.

Both Mysteries and Shades present a side of Keith Jarrett that is quite different from the introspective solo works he was recording for ECM during this time. The albums have held up well over the years, and are definitely worth checking out.

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