For 30-odd years, piano Prometheus Keith Jarrett has done his musical bidding and exploring in self-limited settings, most often either in his “Standards” trio with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock, or—with greater regularity of late—solo. That alone makes Jarrett’s rare and beauteous new duet recording with bassist Charlie Haden a departure while simultaneously a rapprochement with the past.
Haden, of course, was the bedrock in Jarrett’s famed “American” quartet in the 1970s, and the easy access to empathy between this long-separated pair is almost alarming: It’s as if they never left, and, moreover, have gained some kind of new conversational depth in the absence. Consider it a companion piece to Jarrett’s At the Deer Head Inn from 1994, when the pianist shared a rare release with his old drummer, Paul Motian.
What became Jasmine all started casually, when Haden asked Jarrett to speak about him for a Haden documentary. When they sat down to play together in the studio on Jarrett’s property, for the first time in 30-plus years, magic happened (those few minutes, in fact, are the high point of the Haden film, for this viewer). They returned to track several songs, with a dryly intimate sonic presence, in Jarrett’s “Cavelight” studio, where he has only occasionally recorded for public releases.
For this set, Jarrett breaks out into occasional flights of virtuosic fancy, and the pair swerves into some medium swing time, on “No Moon at All” and “Body and Soul.” But mostly Jarrett works out in searching, songful mode, and the general mood is reflective and balladic, framed by “For All We Know” and the extended sigh of “Don’t Ever Leave Me.” The longest track, at 12 minutes, is “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life,” with a lovely opening improvised prelude by Jarrett.
Naturally, ears trained to hear Peacock backing Jarrett will slip into compare/contrast mode. Whereas Peacock is more a lithe, free-range bassist, Haden is best known as a minimalist who—especially on ballads—locks into the loam, relishing the space surrounding each fat, substantial note. Jarrett seems to respond in kind, channeling Haden’s playing into his own fluid, lyrical lines. The result is by turns a ravishing and reflective musical encounter with two of jazz’s greatest instrumentalists, who are getting along famously again.