Release date: October 6th 2009
Availability: CD, MP3 Download
Keith Jarrett started out with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, joined the Charles Lloyd group and then played electric keyboards for Miles Davis, appearing on 'At Filmore', 'Get Up With It' and 'The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions'. In the late 'sixties and into the 'seventies, he featured in a band with Dewey Redman, Charlie Hadyn and Paul Motian, recording more than ten albums. He went on to form an outstanding trio together with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette that redefined the way that jazz relates to the great American songbook and paved the way for Brad Mehldau and many others. But it is in his long improvised piano solo work, recorded live, that his outstanding contribution fully emerges.
'The Koln Concert', released in 1975, was the event that placed this centre stage; the album has already sold over a million copies and is a constant feature of the top 20 jazz charts.
'Paris / London – Testament' is the latest, and perhaps the finest, of these long improvisational works.
Keith Jarrett gives a concise background to his discovery of this form in his album liner notes:
"It all started…… back when I was a six or seven-year-old so-called "child prodigy," studying and playing classical recitals for the Allentown Pa. Women's Club, etc. The programs would usually include masters such as Mozart or Schubert, Chopin or Debussy, but would also include something I "wrote." But this "writing" wasn't executed at all the same each time. Almost nothing was written down on paper….."
Then, making his way as a jazz performer in the early 70's, he discovered something new while performing at the Heidelberg Jazz Festival:
"I started my part of the evening by playing a tune, but somehow did not stop. Instead, I connected the tune to the next one by continuing on some sort of journey or transition to it. So, by the end of the set, I hadn't stopped playing…. Over the years since then, solo piano concerts became more "abstract" and somehow they would grow from small seeds planted spontaneously at the beginning. But they still lasted the entire 45 minutes or so, then a break, then another 45 minutes. They were kind of epic journeys into the unknown. The architecture, however, over many years, became too predictable to me, and I stopped doing so many of these and concentrated on my quartets and writing….."
And he also gives a cogent background to the events leading up to the performances on 'Paris/London: Testament". He had tried to return to this improvised solo format several times, but without success:
"In the early part of this decade, I tried to bring the format back: starting from nothing and building a universe. But somehow, while practicing in my studio, I realized that much of what I was playing was stuff I had liked before, but actively did not like now. Whenever I would play something that was from the past and sounded mechanical, I would stop….. I continued to find a wealth of music inside this open format, stopping whenever the music told me to…"
This seemed to open up the form to him once again and led to the albums "Radiance", recorded in Japan, "The Carnegie Hall Concert"(2006) and concerts in Japan in the spring of 2008.
Yet he is brutally honest about what these extremes of innovation and expression mean for him:
"Although I seemed to others to be some kind of freak of nature, the amount of preparation work, mental, physical, and emotional is probably beyond anybody's imagination (including my own). It is NOT natural to sit at a piano, bring no material, clear your mind completely of musical ideas, and play something that is of lasting value and brand new…"
The concerts in Paris and London in late 2008 that are featured in "Testament" were arranged in great haste in the aftermath of Keith Jarrett's wife of thirty years leaving him, propelling him deeper into his work to "stay alive".
"I was in an incredibly vulnerable emotional state, but I admit to wondering whether this might not be a "good" thing for the music. It truly didn't matter; I had to do (the concerts)…. I decided that if I backed down now, I would back down forever. I used to tell my piano students, "If you're going to play, play like it's the last time." It was not theoretical advice anymore; this was real. This was either going to achieve my survival or hasten my demise. I had no idea how much energy I would have, though I prepared well (but all along I never remembered just how much it took to do these concerts)…."
"Startlingly, Paris was an achievement I never expected….. The (London) concert went on and, though the beginning was a dark, searching, multi-tonal melodic triumph, by the end it somehow became a throbbing, never-to-be-repeated, pulsing rock band of a concert…. Communication is all. Being is all. People are deep, serious creatures with little to hang on to. So, loss may be a big thing, but what remains becomes even more important than ever. Just never let go of the thread. And be honest with yourself."
The music on these three discs (70 minutes from Paris, 100 minutes from London) is, indeed, strongly emotionally charged. It is also by turns stirring, beautiful (London Part VI and Part VIII) and compelling, in particular the material from the London concert, which ends with a very real sense that the transition from the dark and cold uncertainty of its beginning has indeed been transcended in favour of hope and reconciliation.
A remarkable achievement.
It is no surprise, then that Keith Jarrett's playing draws so conclusively in these closing sections on the blues and gospel traditions where hope has found a way to triumph over an unbearable reality; that abiding strength of the blues.
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