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October 2006

Keith Jarrett
The Carnegie Hall Concert
ECM Records

Given the artistic and cultural importance of Keith Jarrett’s fully improvised “solo concerts,” it is surprising that their documentation on record is finite. His new double CD, The Carnegie Hall Concert, is only his 12th solo concert album in 33 years. (Granted, several have been multidisc sets.)

The new album and its predecessor (last year’s Radiance) signal a new direction in Jarrett’s solo art form. Instead of uninterrupted hour-long outpourings, the concerts are now broken up into more manageable “discrete pieces.” The earlier format generated higher highs—more majestic sweeps, more catharses—but also lower lows, in transitional filler and abandoned ventures.

The first CD here offers five varied “instant compositions.” The opening piece (starting with no plan—and 88 options) is a far-flung impulsive process that expands and contracts, gets dense and thins and fidgets forward and slows, as freshly compelling ideas succeed one another. The second is a three-minute minor groove, a hook set deep. The third is an incantatory secular hymn. Then there is a new stimulation of rippling high-treble cascades that never settle. Part five is a nine-minute formal meditation upon sequential lyrical epiphanies.

Of the five remaining sections (opening the second CD), six, seven and nine are unremarkable, but eight and 10 are luminous forms of crystalline poignance, coalesced from free air.

The audience at Carnegie Hall demanded five encores, and three are highlights of the album: the graceful ascent of Jarrett’s 30-year-old “Mon Coeur Est Rouge,” “My Song” (from 1977, a jewel only slightly less finely cut than the original quartet version) and a gentle closing of the circle, “Time on My Hands.”

This is a valuable addition to a distinguished body of recorded work. One complaint: With its five encores, the second CD contains more than 17 minutes of applause and 59 minutes of music. This ratio will test the patience of even the most worshipful Jarrett fans in search of a vicarious solo concert experience.

Originally published in October 2006
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