JAZZ / An hour which passed in a single breath

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The Independent Culture
WHAT A PRECIOUS little fellow Keith Jarrett is. No cameras in the hall, please, no recording equipment, sit still, don't cough, practically don't even breathe while Keith is bent over the Steinway, ear cocked, taking dictation direct from God. I mean, if Ronnie Scott's - clouds of smoke, whisky fumes, noisy expense-account diners and all - was good enough for Bill Evans, a pianist of translucent sensibility, what makes Jarrett think he's any different? That's what some people believe, anyway, and they should have been at the Festival Hall last week to see him get his comeuppance.

The first half of his concert had touched such a height of perfection that you knew it couldn't last. Under the enticing rubric 'In Memory of Miles', Jarrett, the bassist Gary Peacock and the drummer Jack DeJohnette had delivered an hour of brilliant homage to the genius with whom all three of them had worked at one time or another. In that time they demonstrated why, when they came together in 1983 as an occasional recording and touring group, they chose to call themselves the Standards Trio - a reference not merely to their repertoire, which was indeed chiefly composed of standard tunes, but to their intention to restate certain values which they felt to be in danger.

They began with 'Bye Bye Blackbird', in a version making explicit reference to that recorded by Davis's quintet in San Francisco in 1960. Here they somehow captured the essences of the Davis's cryptic muted statement, of Hank Mobley's fluid tenor saxophone, of Wynton Kelly's blend of blues and joy. It was astoundingly subtle, with a coda like a prayer. 'My Funny Valentine', another standard with indelible Davis associations, opened with one of the most remarkable pieces of thematic improvisation I've ever heard: rather than joining the individual phrases of the melody together, Jarrett spent the entire first chorus making them move away from each other - an extraordinary effect, prefacing a piece that you want to wrap up right there and take home to keep.

'All of You' showed off their bebop chops at a classic Davis medium tempo, notably Peacock's lithe lyricism and DeJohnette's perfectly balanced ride-cymbal and snare-drum work. After the extended codas to the first two pieces, this time they finished with an ending so deftly abrupt that the tune appeared to have vanished into thin air, bringing delighted gasps. After an unidentified original ballad, the set closed with a storming 'Straight, No Chaser' incorporating a DeJohnette master class on the art of the double-stroke roll. The hour seemed to have passed in a single breath.

After the interval, Jarrett contrived his own downfall by claiming to have spotted the tell-tale red light on a camera or a tape recorder operating in the stalls, and by making repeated requests to have it switched off. While one sympathises with the desire of the highly-tuned artist to immerse himself in the moment, without having to think about having his music taken down on a retrieval system ('This isn't about posterity,' he lectured the 'offender'), one also remembers that several of the trio's recent albums have been recorded in concert, and some of them even carry photographs of the artists in performance on the covers.

Anyway, after several of these harangues it transpired that the thing in question wasn't a camera or tape recorder after all. Jarrett had to apologise, which made the sceptics chuckle. And the spell had been broken. They still sounded like the best piano trio in the world - memories of the second half included a rolling gospel-chord sequence at the end of 'How Long Has This Been Going On?' and a slow, devastatingly precise reading of 'Basin Street Blues' - but something that had been there in the first half, something that those who heard it will never forget, was gone.

(Photograph omitted)

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