Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Surprises are consistent with Keith Jarrett trio

By kindofblue

Quietly, Keith Jarrett’s so-called Standards Trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, has become one of the longest-lived small groups in jazz history, right up there with the Modern Jazz Quartet: they’ve been together for 24 years. They have some similarities to the MJQ, too, like a tendency to keep the volume low and a fondness for ballads.

But with the MJQ, you pretty much knew what you were going to get every time you went to see them — what the repertoire would be, what the solos would sound like. (I say that with all due respect; sorry if it sounds harsh, but it is a fact.) With Jarrett’s trio, it’s always a surprise. Which, paradoxical as it may sound, is one of the things that make this group so consistent.

I’ve seen this trio many times — including pretty much every one of its appearances at the JVC Jazz Festival — and there have always been at least a few moments in every concert where Jarrett, his sidemen, and/or the trio as a unit played something I had just plain never heard before. Their June 21 JVC concert at Carnegie Hall was full of such moments.

[Photo: Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette take a bow, Perugia, Italy, 2000. © Giancarlo Belfiore]

As many times as I’ve seen them, I had never thought of it quite this way before, but what’s most impressive about Jarrett’s playing in this context is that he places himself totally in the service of the songs (which, this night, included “Yesterdays,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “I’m a Fool to Want You,” a few beautiful tunes I didn’t recognize, and a few happy surprises, like the Dave Brubeck novelty “It’s a Raggy Waltz”). He looks deep inside the songs to find what they’re all about, rather than using them as a vehicle for flaunting his technique or hauling out his patented Keith Jarrett Licks.

Sure, he fired off plenty of those million-note runs he’s famous for, but he chose his spots well. And he was just as likely to play a single long, sustained note or chord, or even to play nothing at all and let the silences speak for themselves.

Gary Peacock is a rock. And Jack DeJohnette communicates more power through the discreet use of brushes and mallets than many a bashing drummer does by playing all over the kit. Put the three musicians together, it’s perfection. Or close enough for me, anyway.

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