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July/August 2003

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette
Up for It
ECM Records

Up for It marks the 20th anniversary of Keith Jarrett's "Standards Trio," with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, and the group's 17th recording on ECM. (The figure is deceiving because many of these 17 albums have been multi-disc sets.) Up for It also signals a return to the Great American Songbook, after two recordings that were completely improvised, Inside Out and Always Let Me Go.

In Jarrett's hands, completely improvised albums and albums of standards are not deeply dissimilar. True, the recordings of standards provide coordinates for Jarrett's flights. And the improvised works contain lower lows (the transitional periods while the band explores for the next direction), and higher highs (when Jarrett breaks through and snatches fresh song from free air). But for both, collective invention, fearlessly dependent on the muse and the moment, is the core.

Up for It was recorded at an outdoor venue at the Festival de Jazz d'Antibes in Juan-les-Pins, France, on July 16, 2002. It was the trio's eighth appearance at this festival since 1985, but the first in such adverse conditions. It had rained for several days before July 16, and it rained straight through the concert, which was performed on a piano that Jarrett describes as "waterlogged," with Gary Peacock dodging leaks in an overhead canopy. This kind of weather on the Cote d'Azur in July was a curveball. Jarrett seems to have followed the advice about nasty curveballs that baseball coaches give young hitters: "Don't try to do too much with it."

This CD feels different from the other standards albums. Jarrett does not push these songs as hard; Peacock and DeJohnette take fewer solos; the tempos are mostly medium. Jarrett just lets it happen, backing into "If I Were a Bell," acknowledging Frank Loesser's theme in casual, perfunctory passing, curious to see where it goes, not rushing it. "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "Autumn Leaves" are like that too, unassuming by Jarrett's standards, yet they reach a fluidity and an organic unity in their spontaneous revelation of ideas that is quietly extraordinary. One reason that the tempos feel similar, even when they vary, is that the trio hits a locked-in groove and does not leave it all night.

The most memorable performance is "My Funny Valentine." It is quite different from the precise, ritualistic version on Still Live, from 1986. The earlier performance has relentless energy, Peacock and DeJohnette whirring and fidgeting, Jarrett scattering fragments of the song on the fly. The version here is more subdued but no less aspirational, and when it finds a path back to the melody at the end, it briefly insists on it and then lets it melt away.

Up for It lacks the passionate creativity (and the sonic quality) of the best albums in this trio's ECM portfolio. But it is an honest, small, unique installment in one of the distinguished bodies of recorded work in the history of jazz.

Originally published in July/August 2003
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