That Keith Jarrett, heâ€™s one incredible mofo. Consider:
Â· In the middle of the domination of jazz by wanking electric guitarists and keyboardists in 1975, KJ sits down in front of an audience in West Germany armed with only a piano, starts playing whatever came out of his head for about an hour and the recording becomes a best seller, single-handedly putting the fledgling ECM label on the map.
Â· Survives a disastrous turn as a folk-pop singer/songwriter.
Â· Was one of Miles Davis' most enthusiastic electric pianists, although you wouldnâ€™t know given how much he later disparaged what Miles was doing with his music at the time.
Â· Continues to play at a very high level despite recently suffering from chronic stress syndrome.
But perhaps his most amazing feat is that his main gig for the last twenty years has been to play standards plus a handful of originals with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack deJohnette exclusively and still come up with new ideas within those narrow confines. ECM dutifully releases one or two live recordings a year of Keith and the boys doing just this and these records never disappoint. In fact, it seems they get better because theyâ€™ve developed such a unique chemistry, one thatâ€™s on par with Evans/LaFaro/Motion in 1960-1. To this crew, the song is just a vehicle; the thrill is where they drive that thing. About the only requirement is that the car theyâ€™re driving is malleable enough to bend with the changes.
Todayâ€™s OTM highlights one selection out of that huge stack of live recordings of well worn covers. In June 1994, the KJT set up shop in NYC for an extended engagement at The Blue Note. All sets were released as part a six CD box set, and in the set contained in CD #3 is a magnificent version of Johnny Mercerâ€™s "Autumn Leaves." You got about half an hour to lend your ears? Good, letâ€™s get rollingâ€¦
The proceedings start with Jarrett alone on piano stating theme repetitively with block chords, almost in a stumbling fashion and with slight variations. Peacock and deJohnette softly enter at around the 4:20 mark, gradually picking up the pace until the piece evolves into a nice, tight light bop workout. Garyâ€™s bass plods are on the money and he does a fine job regulating the pace as Keith starts laying down some thoughtful single lines, followed by a Peacock solo. After more Jarrett soloing, the song suddenly changes into a two chord vamp around the 13:00 mark. Soon, deJohnette is laying down a nasty calypso pulse as all three are gettinâ€™ down. Jarrett and Peacock play ever decreasing notes until itâ€™s pretty much just deJohnette at the twenty minute mark.