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Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Hamburg ’72

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Reissues and previously unreleased “vault” recordings are crucial to the jazz record industry. Since the start of the compact disc era in 1983, both have abounded. The steady stream of important previously unreleased old recordings has necessitated a new album designation in the jazz polls: “Historical.”

The ECM label has been late getting on this train, but they are making up for lost time. Early in the new millennium they introduced the :rarum series of artist-selected compilations from the catalog, and more recently launched the Old & New Masters reissue program. They have also gotten into the “historical” business. Hamburg ’72 is a newly unearthed live recording from a German radio concert at the NDR Funkhaus. (Nice name, but “funk” only means “radio” in German.)

The first striking fact about this material is how far it goes back. ECM is in its third year. Keith Jarrett is 27. The first track is “Rainbow,” by Margot Jarrett, Keith’s wife at the time. It is an ephemeral ballad, and Jarrett at 27 is capable of rendering it as the intimate flickering of dawning emotion. By 1972, his taut, dramatic timing, his personal harmonic concept and especially his touch were in place. He could already make piano notes hang forever in the air. He is equally capable of rocking the Funkhaus to its foundations, like on “Take Me Back.”

The second realization, or recollection, is that Jarrett once played flute and soprano saxophone. The flute was for color and atmosphere. On “Everything That Lives Laments,” Jarrett’s piping prepares for the darkness of his piano placements. The soprano saxophone was for raising hell. Jarrett’s shrieking on “Piece for Ornette” generates a frenzy worthy of a full-time saxophone outcat. Its abrasive nasality also makes you yearn for his piano, which never comes.

The next insight is that long before he got together with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, Jarrett had a piano trio for the ages. He made three recordings with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian between 1967 and 1971 but, oddly, they are barely remembered today. This trio is most often identified as three quarters of Jarrett’s “American Quartet” with Dewey Redman. In Hamburg, the complexity and depth of the Jarrett/Haden hookup is extraordinary. (Their bond endured for 40 years; their duo album Last Dance was recorded in 2007.) Haden and Motian were older than Jarrett but still young in 1972, 34 and 41 respectively. Their signatures are unmistakable-Motian’s counterintuitive accents, Haden’s looming tones like the knells of eternity-but they are in their prime. Motian is typically subtle but also surprisingly powerful. Haden’s solos are vast.

Political music often fails as art. But Charlie Haden’s strongest work as a composer came out of his left-wing radicalism. “Song for Che” once got him arrested in Portugal and interviewed by the FBI. On Hamburg ’72 it begins with his long, dire announcement in the right channel and Motian’s barely audible premonitory stirrings in the left. Jarrett enters on soprano saxophone in strangulated cries over Haden, now fiercely droning, and Motian, rumbling and threatening. Then Jarrett spills into the song on piano, in ringing tremolos that contain “Song for Che.” Its melody is its mourning. Haden then takes back his story and whispers it into silence. For these three artists political music, like all music, is emotion made audible, to be shared.

The sound of this album is bright and alive. Producer Manfred Eicher and engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug remixed it on July 12, 2014. They must have done their work with heavy hearts. It was the day after Charlie Haden died.

Originally Published