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Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation

Portraits of the artist can be troublesome, particularly when the artist is as towering and enigmatic as Keith Jarrett. This reasonably fine documentary by the British Mike Dibb is nicely packed with interviews, a rambling yet clean chronology and ample musical evidence. Dibbs touches base with people from Jarrett’s musical world–ECM’s Manfred Eicher, bassist Gary Peacock and saxophonist Jan Garbarek–and also, refreshingly, from brother Scott Jarrett, who talks about early family influences and plays a tape of a pop song sung by a young, high-voiced Keith.

Jarrett’s philosophical approach to music, which emphasizes surrendering to improvisation, is covered, but the real revelation is the film’s archival live footage. It is compelling to watch snippets snatched from Jarrett’s musical life: the young firebrand summoning dervish energy as the star of Charles Lloyd’s ’60s quartet, manning (and manhandling) electric keys in the crispy-funky Miles Davis group and playing with his 1970s American and European bands. Jarrett also talks about his late-1990s fight with chronic fatigue syndrome.

The Art of Improvisation comes close to illuminating Jarrett’s process through words and pictures, but the most rewarding moment comes in a too-short bonus live performance by his trio. In the end, his music still says it all.

Originally Published