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Keith Jarrett: The Impulse Years: 1973-4

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The Jarrett group sessions re-released (with extra tracks) here are marked for excellence by the presence of top-notch sidemen (saxophonist Dewey Redman, drummer Paul Motian, bassist Charlie Haden, percussionists Guillhermo Franco and/or Danny Johnson, and occasional tracks with guitarist Sam Brown). Pianist Jarrett and the band recorded these four albums shortly after he left his two year stint in Miles Davis’ group (1969-71) and while he was riding rising waves of popularity with his almost folksy, solo concerts for ECM. The albums were Fort Yawuh, Treasure Island, Death And The Flower and Backhand; the fifth CD consists of unreleased out-takes from the live Village Vanguard date that produced Fort Yawuh.

The compositions emerge from a cohesive middle period in this group’s five-year life cycle, characterized by zingy groove-oriented pieces, lyrical ballads of great beauty and suites of increasing length and complexity, culminating in a superb “side-long” “Death and The Flower” that presages the album-length Survivors Suite (1976). The longer suites also encapsulate romantic balladry in extended piano solos that rhapsodize effectively. The band achieved a great variety of coloristic and textural layers, with Jarrett regularly doubling on soprano sax, Redman blowing musette, as well as tenor, and everyone (except probably Haden) picking up little percussion instruments now and then.

Folkloric qualities present in Jarrett’s solo piano music here emerge even more strongly, as themes with powerful American Indian elements of rooted simplicity (Haden’s sonorous, deeply grounded bass) and ritual dance (repeated loops, singing lines) are given more roughness under the jazz veneer by often being played on ‘primitive’ instruments (wooden flute, tambourine, maracas, shakers) or in Redman’s braying, chanting tenor style. The storytelling aspects of this band’s music are profoundly moving; no matter what the tempo, there is never a sense of rushing the beat or the narrative over Motian’s floating rhythm (hear his tom-toms on “Roads Traveled”); these griots of the plains are telling timeless tales of big sky and rolling rivers. They take their sweet time: most of the best tracks-except on the peppy, air-play oriented “Treasure Island” with Sam Brown’s guitar on a couple of cute quickies-run nine to 15 minutes, but are so structured as to resemble not so much a jam session as a pow-wow. Listening to Jarrett, the jazzers and the new agers have been converging for a generation.