Recording of August 1991: Tribute

Keith Jarrett, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drum
ECM 1420/21 (847 135-2, 2 CDs only). Jan Erik Kongshaug, O. Fries, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDD. TT: 115:05

Damn. Just checked my private stash of pure, uncut, Peruvian superlatives, and they're just about out. Bummer. Worst scene a record reviewer can play. But what'd I expect after listening to 6½ hours of Jarrett's Sun Bear Concerts, then Dave Holland's Extensions, then the Hot Spot soundtrack, then Taj Mahal's new Mule Bone (the Natch'l Blues Rides Again!), and Elvis Costello's Mighty Like A Rose, not to mention Columbia's new box of nearly four prime hours of previously unreleased vintage Dylan? Bad action, mama.

Still, crank it up I must, as if I haven't been having one of the best months ever in a lifetime of listening. But let's keep it minimal—I mean, what is it you really need to know to get you down to your local musicmonger's so's you can plonk down 25 dead prezzes and take Tribute home?

Start here: Just when you thought it was safe to listen to your old Bill Evans records again, Keith Jarrett's "Standards" combo has gone and gotten even better than it was on 1988's Still Live (reviewed in Vol.11 No.8), the trio's last recorded run-in with the Great American Songbook. Hard to believe, I know, but genuine trooth—I swear it on my stack of Miles Davis bootlegs.

Tribute's got a gimmick: Jarrett has picked his ten most important jazz influences—Lee Konitz, Jim Hall, Nancy Wilson, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, Anita O'Day, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane—and paid, ah, tribute to each with an appropriate standard they themselves loved to play. (Jarrett's mellowed—used to be he never admitted being influenced by anyone.) But dig: in no way does KJ try to ape these (mostly) guys, any more than Herbie Hancock & Co. tried to re-create expatriate '50s Parisian bebop on the 'Round Midnight soundtrack. What Tribute gives you is a lot more than a musical museum; it's a much more direct, straight-to-the-soul, spiritual connection with these mentors, living and dead. And it makes sense that of the ten musicians paid tribute, six are horn players and two are singers: about what you'd expect from someone who sings through a percussion instrument better than most horn blowers blow or vocalists sing, and who's given whole new meanings to the concept of jazz cantabile.

It makes for some odd cross-references: "Lover Man," dedicated to Lee Konitz, comes out sounding like Bill Evans, while the tune dedicated to Evans himself, Miles Davis's "Solar," sounds more like Red Garland, and "All of You," dedicated to Miles Davis, reminds just a bit of Ahmad Jamal, who Miles admits was one of his own big influences. But it doesn't really matter who Jarrett's dedicatees are, or what tunes he plays for them, because what this set sounds like most is the Keith Jarrett Trio. What counts is the fact that the playing itself is simply unparalleled, even given the usual very high level of "musical telepathy" that's become reviewer's boilerplate for this band (including my own reviews of them), so relaxed and so intense all at once that it all sounds so much easier than it could possibly be, making you wonder why anyone would ever want these tunes played any other way.

Jack DeJohnette's New Orleans influences are more in evidence all the time as his playing evolves—listen to his breaks on "Solar" and "All of You"—and that means ever more relaxed playing, driving more and more with fewer and fewer notes; an inversion of the young Tony Williams. And Gary Peacock remains, with Dave Holland, one of the two or three most satisfying bass players around: full, rich support, never grandstanding, always walking like it's the first time down this particular path—confident, sure, full of discovery. What more could you ask?

You don't have to—it's here anyway. Like the astonishing interplay between Jarrett and DeJohnette on the Charlie Parker tribute, "Just in Time": I sat there listening in a ten-minute wince, just waiting for the missed cadence, the dropped baton. It never happened. The trio cooked and cooked, built and built. Talk about creative tension...!

Or Coleman Hawkins's lugubrious ghost almost taking a chorus on "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Or Jarrett's long, long implied-guitar lines on the Jim Hall dedication, "I Hear a Rhapsody."

Or "It's Easy to Remember," even quieter, though not as blue, as Trane's own version on Ballads.

Or the real stinger, "All the Things You Are," as different as could be from the version on Standards Vol. 1, Jarrett beginning fugally, parsing the tune's rhythm and melody, folding them in on themselves like printed wrapping paper, then holding the whole thing up to the light to reveal rich new patterns. This one brings the otherwise staid, well-behaved, echt Deutsch audience (Köln again) to a shouting, whistling uproar. No surprise that this is the Sonny Rollins tribute, full of straight-ahead, high-energy fun and pianistic break-dancing.

The two Jarrett "originals," jams growing out of "Solar" and "It's Easy to Remember," are reminiscent of their very similar sisters on Changeless (reviewed in June 1990, Vol.13 No.6), a whole disc of such improvs. They're about as satisfying without ever rising above their own lack of material; though I've got to admit, DeJohnette amazes me with his relaxation on "U Dance," a classic Jarrett Caribbean gospel jam.

Sound is satisfyingly warm, undigital, with more or less believable soundstaging. The drums are too wide, as usual, but the piano is realistically sized for a change, not spreading as wide as the speakers are apart. Bass is somewhat left of center, drums (mostly) somewhat right; all in all, pretty natural soundstaging, and, as far as I can tell, accurate. Still, the mix is strange, drums consistently superimposed on the piano; listen to any Chesky jazz CD for what this kind of combo should sound like.

Say what? I hear you Old-Agers—you who've sworn never to listen to another Jarrett Solo Concert in your life (your loss, fellas)—squirming in your sticky jazzclub seats: "But does it swing?"

Yes. Yes. As recommended as they wanna be.—Richard Lehnert