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Keith Jarrett: Munich 2016 (ECM)

A review of the two-disc live set from the pianist

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Keith Jarrett, Munich 2016
The cover of Munich 2016 by Keith Jarrett

A Keith Jarrett solo recital is its own art form. It is unlike solo performances by other jazz pianists, most of whom improvise off composed tunes or create free jazz absent of structure. Calling Jarrett an improvising pianist is too limiting. He’s more akin to a classical composer—except that he works really, really quickly. His original solo works may be wholly improvised, but it’s more accurate to say that they’re composed on the spot. He writes études and sonatas directly onto the keys, before enormous crowds.

Maybe that’s why he demands such stillness from his audiences: He’s not just playing, he’s composing (he’s trying to work here!). This is especially true of the 12-part suite that makes up most of the two-disc Munich 2016, recorded in July of that year in the Bavarian capital’s Philharmonic Hall. Some parts are introspective. Some are romps. The first part, a 14-minute behemoth, is all sharp edges, dizzying runs and punchy chords. The blues abounds. So does the pastoral. Part IX is, of all things, a boogie-woogie, Jarrett’s left hand anchoring the tune with stride-style ostinatos while his right unleashes dramatic flourishes. He follows that with a gorgeous movement whose story is told in minor chords and contrapuntal accents. For an encore he takes on “Answer Me, My Love” (made famous by Nat King Cole), “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” (Frank Sinatra), and “Over the Rainbow,” each lovelier than the last.

Spontaneously composed music is rarely as glorious and sophisticated as in Jarrett’s hands. Is this his finest solo work? Who knows and who cares? For that honor it’s up against The Köln Concert, Radiance, and his others, which are the best in the business.

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Steve Greenlee

Steve Greenlee is the executive editor of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and a former longtime editor and jazz critic at The Boston Globe. He plays keyboards in the Maine bands Under The Covers and Sons Of Quint.