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Keith Jarrett: Concerts Bregenz/München

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This three-CD box contains two Keith Jarrett solo concerts from 1981. The performance in Bregenz, Austria, has been previously reissued on CD. The concert in Munich, Germany, appears here on CD for the first time.

Bregenz/München belongs with Jarrett’s other monumental improvised solo piano concerts (Bremen/Lausanne, The Köln Concert, L Scala), though it is a little wilder, a little rougher. It contains its own unrepeatable iterations of Jarrett’s unique solo art form. Its outpourings start from silence and postulate sound, then follow that sound where it leads, through violent chords, aching single-note newfound melodies, body-slamming grooves, songs within songs, dead spots, prancing rituals, flounderings and sudden triumphant releases.

In his liner notes, Jarrett may solve the mystery of why music so demanding has attracted a huge audience. (According to the Wall Street Journal, The Köln Concert has sold over 3.5 million copies.) He points out that “everyone in the hall is participating in the music … everyone is a pianist. This process is the process of creativity.” Truly listening to improvised music is not a passive act. Jarrett’s solo concerts allow inspired listeners to take the journey with him, to feel what the air requires almost at the same moment as Jarrett.

There are many revelations: the haunting opening of Bregenz “Part I,” before the turbulence sets in; the wicked, cyclic black-magic ceremony of Bregenz “Part II”; the perfect arcs of both the Austrian and German versions of “Heartland”; the bare, simple incantation of München “Part I” that, in 23 minutes, becomes something enormous and dense. In Peter Rüedi’s liner essay, he cautions listeners not to “fixate on the details,” even when they are beautiful. “It’s better to avoid picking out the especially ingenious or astonishing passages,” he writes, because what is important is the “spontaneously discovered larger organic form.” Rüedi is correct. The vast encompassing acts of the imagination that were Jarrett’s early solo concerts are his greatest achievements.

But there is one “astonishing passage” that cannot go unmentioned. In 2002, ECM introduced its :rarum series, in which artists chose their own favorite pieces from their ECM recordings. For his :rarum entry, Jarrett included “Part IV” from the Munich concert, out of print at the time. It opens like many Jarrett solo improvisations. He tries patterns, searching for a current, a tide to sweep him somewhere. But he gets stuck at the right end of the keyboard and circles in a panic, trapped. He slaps the top of the piano with his left hand and stomps his foot and groans in agony. He furiously searches the high treble keys for an answer, grunting with the effort. Then at last his right hand finds a way out, a path back to the rest of the keyboard, back to music-a flowering and cascading of music. “Part IV” is the work of an artist willing to risk everything in public. The audience in Munich knows it and erupts.

I wrote an article on the :rarum series in 2002 and interviewed Jarrett. He said he chose “Part IV” for his :rarum compilation “because I disappeared. I was gone. I didn’t know what my body was doing. I didn’t know where my hands were. I was in a place that I very rarely reach while playing, although I’ve been trying for it my entire life. And also because I think trauma is good for a listener.”

You have your instructions. Bring creativity, and a willingness to undergo trauma.

Originally Published