Keith Jarrett: Hymns/Spheres

Keith Jarrett was only a year removed from The Köln Concert-which became the best-selling album in jazz history to that time-when in 1976 he released Hymns/Spheres, a two-LP solo album recorded on the Karl Joseph Riepp “Trinity” Baroque pipe organ at the Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Germany. This new two-CD reissue marks the first time that ECM has released the recording in its entirety on compact disc.

Delivering an album to ECM that, aside from the overarching concept of melody-filled free improvisation, bore virtually no resemblance to its bestselling predecessor was precisely the kind of maverick decision that Jarrett would become known for throughout his career. Fortunately for him, the label didn’t blink, and even if Hymns/Spheres is seen as an anomaly in Jarrett’s discography today, it’s a singularly stunning one.

Jarrett’s facility on the instrument is mighty, and his classical sensibility is unimpeachable. The program consists of the nine-movement Spheres bookended by “Hymn of Remembrance” and “Hymn of Release,” all of it unfolding slowly and orchestrally: Jarrett obviously enjoys the instrument’s capability to fill the cavernous basilica, and milks all available sonic features. The end result is stately music that serves to add to our admiration of him as an indefatigably intrepid artist.

Jeff Tamarkin

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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.