Jazz Albums

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TO COINCIDE with their 30th anniversary celebrations, ECM have released new albums by three of their most abiding stars. Keith Jarrett's The Melody at Night, With You is something special: the first time the pianist has recorded a set of standards solo. It's an almost embarrassingly beautiful record, so lush and romantic, and so careful to retain the original melodies, that it could almost form the soundtrack for a Woody Allen film.

TO COINCIDE with their 30th anniversary celebrations, ECM have released new albums by three of their most abiding stars. Keith Jarrett's The Melody at Night, With You is something special: the first time the pianist has recorded a set of standards solo. It's an almost embarrassingly beautiful record, so lush and romantic, and so careful to retain the original melodies, that it could almost form the soundtrack for a Woody Allen film.

The album is also important for what it tells us about Jarrett. Now 54, the enigmatic pianist has been suffering from an ME-type illness for some years and has evidently been unable to compose new material; thus the growing reliance on standards, or re-workings of the classical piano repertoire. There is, however, one new original here, the fragmentary "Meditation" which is appended to a version of "Blame It On My Youth", as well as two arrangements of traditional folk tunes. In what some will regard as a serious lapse of taste, Jarrett even has a go at "Be My Love", that old Mario Lanza warhorse. Although the final track is "I'm Through With Love", it sounds as if Jarrett, who dedicates the album to his wife Rose Anne, has in the Carpenters' immortal words, only just begun.

Of the other two ECM releases, Prime Directive by the Dave Holland Quartet is a real jazz album of the sort one sometimes despairs of encountering any more.

Driven once again by the chattering drums of Billy Kilson, who sounds like a new Elvin Jones, the tempos veer from the furious and funky to the dreamily quiescent. As usual, Holland's compositions provide aesthetically pleasing holding forms for sophisticated group interplay, with the front-line of Chris Potter on saxophone and Kevin Eubanks on trombone combining superbly. Their dual solo on the title track is a killer. Although the personnel periodically changes, Holland's quintet has been going for 15 years now. On present form, no other group can touch it.

If the Jarrett and the Holland present us with relatively known quantities, the third ECM release, From the Green Hill by the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, is a real surprise and a triumph for the company's policy of creative casting. After the success of Stanko's last album, Litania, other labels might have been tempted to stick with the same formula, but the new sextet changes the guard entirely, apart from Jon Christensen on drums. ECM regulars Dino Saluzzi on bandoneon and John Surman on reeds are drafted in, together with Michelle Makarski on violin and Anders Jormin on bass, to form a kind of folk-jazz-tango ensemble. Although there's a reprise for two versions of the Litania theme, the sound-world of the album is completely different, the clear open spaces offering Stanko time for his particular brand of melancholy wheedling. The album releases its charms slowly, as truly inspired music so often does.

The opening track of Escapade by Julian Arguelles (Provocateur) begins as brightly as the title theme from an early film by Truffaut. Woodwind and horns tootle away on a repeated figure that just cries out for a cinematic accompaniment of dappled sunshine and boys on bicycles. The rest of the album, which comprises nine tunes composed by Arguelles for an octet, is impressively varied yet retains a satisfying unity through the continual sensitivity of the writing and the unusual instrumentation of the band, which includes Django Bates on tenor horn and Mike Walker on electric guitar.

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