Online since August 2002

A sublime solo supremacy

Reviewed December 2009

Paris/London - Testament
Paris/London - Testament
By Keith Jarrett

ECM: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

In his ability to compose new music on the fly as he plays it for the first (and often only) time in a solo setting, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is unparallelled. For more than three decades, he's been performing and recording his solo shows in which he performs a series of wholly improvised pieces – he comes to the piano with no specific theme or melody, no prepared arrangement, nothing. Just him, his talent, his life's experiences and the piano.

What has made these events such hallmarks of the jazz canon is Jarrett's astrounding gift at creating melodious extrapolations of a theme constructed on the spot, reworking that brand-new theme over and again, refining and rebuilding it from every conceivable angle.

His latest solo piano live improvisation, "Paris/London - Testament," is, like his breakthrough solo live recording, "Solo - Concerts Bremen Lausanne" (1973), a three-disc affair (now plastic instead of vinyl). The decades have only deepened his compositional well, provided him a broader current of influences and inspirations. His vocal grunts and breathing now offer a cello-like accompaniment to his piano playing, which is less linear than in his earlier works, more contrapuntal, even angry at times.

Put most pianists, even the very best, at a piano with no rehearsal, and instructions to create something new, and you'll get doodling. Jarrett's on-the-fly compositions arrive as if fully formed, not just snippets of melody or blocks of chord changes, but fully arranged – with his left hand creating deep, resonant harmonies and rhythm, his right hand crafting melodic themese and variations. Just a few minutes later, both hands are creating rhythm and harmony simultaneously, pounding out a fierce, Tatum-esque bop piece. Or he'll caress (as on "Part III" of his London concert on the new release) an uptempo piece that sounds like a tune from an old Broadway musical. Or (on "Part XI") what comes across as a lost standard from the '50s.

True enough, he isn't composing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony each time out; not all of his themes are hummable. But they are more attractive than what most folks work out over weeks, months and years – and to witness them being created in the pressure-cooked environment of a live concert with a knowledgeable audience?

It is superb.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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