Jazz: Sweet essence of Cologne
Phil Johnson listens to old and new from Keith Jarrett and material from Tubby Hayes' vintage Ronnie Scotts recordings
Friday 29 May 1998
Released later that year as a double-album, The Koln Concert, went on to become the best selling solo piano album ever, in any genre, racking up close to two million copies and still selling steadily today. Used in the soundtrack to Nic Roeg's film Bad Timing of 1980, and regularly excerpted in film and television ever since, the music is a marvel of sustained, lyrical, improvisation, with Jarrett hammering the keys of the dodgy grand into beautifully limpid, sometimes country-tinged, harmonic shapes that really make the piano sing, especially in the transcendent opening passages. It's the one jazz solo piano record that every home should have, and the perfect ambient accompaniment to coffee and croissants on a lazy Sunday morning.
Over the last decade, Jarrett's once astoundingly prolific stream of albums has slowed to a trickle, and each new release is therefore something of an event. He has also tended to divide his recordings between performances of the classical piano repertoire, especially Bach and Mozart, and the jazz of his "Standards" trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, which in 1983 began a series of albums of improvisations on familiar show-tunes and Tin Pan Alley songs.
Whether this reliance on material composed by others represents a kind of mid-life crisis for Jarrett, who was 53 last week, is a moot point, but his new Standards Trio album, Tokyo '96 (ECM), and yet another live recording, is so triumphantly good that you cease to care. The closing sequence, where "My Funny Valentine" merges into Jarrett's own "Song" bridged by a masterful bass solo by Peacock, creates a dreamy, aesthetic, haze that is so beautiful it almost hurts to listen to it. Unusually, Jarrett also plays bebop, covering Charlie Parker's "Biliie's Bounce" and Bud Powell's "John's Abbey", and he swings like the clappers throughout. A version of the kitsch classic "Mona Lisa" is made into a kind of quiet prayer, and there's even the odd key-hammering reference to The Koln Concert. Unfortunately, Jarrett also does what his fans fear most: he sings, whining nasally as he plays like Glenn Gould, only much, much, worse. Happily, it's relatively infrequent and therefore a small price to pay for such a return to form.
The saxophonist, vibes-player and composer Tubby Hayes, who died in 1973 aged 38, may well have been the greatest British jazz musician of the century; certainly he was the best bopper, and the only one to reach the kind of parity with American musicians that his generation regarded as the true measure of success. He deputised for Paul Gonsalves in Duke Ellington's orchestra, played regularly in New York, and recorded with Clark Terry and Roland Kirk, as well as leading small groups and a big band. He even becoming a popular personality with his own television shows in the early Sixties. Later, the jazz life took its toll and he suffered recurrent heart trouble, dying while undergoing surgery. By chance, I recently met Hayes's drummer in his later years, Michael "Spike" Wells. By way of making polite conversation, I asked him whether Hayes had suffered from a kind of spiritual crisis. "No", Wells said. "He just loved drugs and drink.'
Now, Verve Records have released two of Hayes's old albums on CD as the first titles in their new "Redial" series of classic British jazz, which also promises to make available the legendary recordings of Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott, who arrived at a form of free jazz at the same time, but quite independently of, Ornette Coleman. The Hayes albums, Late Spot at Scott's, and Down In The Village, (Redial, CD) are both quintet dates from sessions recorded live at Ronnie Scott's club over two nights in 1962, and the original records on the Fontana label have become among the most sought after of all British vinyl artefacts.
The music is in a hard bop, Jazz Messengers, vein (Hayes had formed the British riposte to Blakey's Messengers, the Jazz Couriers, with Ronnie Scott in 1957), but Hayes's arrangements are both distinctive and effective, and his playing on tenor and soprano sax marvellously fluent. Occasional features for his vibes offer a fine and mellow contrast, and Jimmy Deuchar's trumpet sounds as sharp as a razor. Like the soundtrack to an imaginary Soho film noir, the music summons up a lost world of narrow-lapelled suits, ex-National Service skivers, and cool American music played heroically against the very grey grain of Macmillan's pre-Beetles England.
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