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Keith Jarrett: Budapest Concert (ECM)

For fans despondent over the piano master's likely retirement from performance, this 2016 solo live recording is a reminder of his powers

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Cover of Keith Jarrett album Budapest Concert
Cover of Keith Jarrett album Budapest Concert

Keith Jarrett—whose recent announcement that he suffered two debilitating strokes in 2018 casts severe doubt on the likelihood of his performing again—is already on record as saying that he now considers the new Budapest Concert, recorded in the Hungarian capital in 2016, the “gold standard” among his solo live albums. Why, a listener might wonder, does the pianist deem this particular recital to be worthier than his Munich 2016 set—taken from the same tour and released a year ago—or, for that matter, his 1975 landmark The Köln Concert? Virtually all of Jarrett’s solo releases approach impeccability, a remarkable achievement considering that he takes the same risk each time he enters a concert hall, engaging in pure improvisation and trusting his creative impulses. Is Budapest truly the pinnacle, or is Jarrett just responding to the thrill of the new? Who knows, but it’s up there with his finest, that much is for sure.

As with the Munich concert, and numerous other solo recordings, some dating back nearly half a century, Jarrett dispenses with titles, instead dividing his suite of spontaneous creations into “parts”: There are 12 of them on Budapest Concert, ranging in length from just under three minutes to nearly 15. Each part is intended both as a distinct movement and an essential slice of the whole pie; each exudes its own personality, but some naturally exert themselves more convincingly.

“Part I,” the longest on the two-disc set, presents the widest range of hues, tempos, and complexities: one second deceptively simple, the next a twisted flurry of notes, it’s a wild ride. “Part VII,” the first track handed over to streaming services as a teaser, is linear, serene, and accessible. Only one of the 12 parts, the last, receives a subtitle—“Blues”—and that’s precisely what it is, a joyous, fiercely played, irony-free boogie-woogie and a welcome surprise. The two encores, the borrowed compositions “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” and “Answer Me,” both of which also appeared on Munich 2016, are blissful enough, sure, but having just heard Keith Jarrett rock roadhouse-style, a bit of a letdown.

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.