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Originally published November 2, 2011 at 1:11 PM | Page modified November 2, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Review: A restrained Keith Jarrett lets the energy rise gradually

Jazz musician Keith Jarrett and his band mates played two quite different sets in the Earshot Jazz Festival on Tuesday night in Seattle.

Seattle Times jazz critic

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CONCERT REVIEW |

It is Keith Jarrett's genius that he can take a deep, yogic breath before playing a note on the piano, strip away all aspects of "mind" and let himself be blown by the winds of the moment. His receptivity is almost palpable.

Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall, at the Earshot Jazz Festival, his trio spent a lot of time in calm waters, rarely plowing forward full sail. Though his playing was masterful, swinging, evanescent and peppered with tiny surprises, his restraint verged on emotional distance.

So be it. With Jarrett, you take what you get — and, one supposes, so does he: Either the gods smile upon you, or they don't. Even at his second-best, Jarrett was a cut above the rest.

Wearing a tan shirt with billowing sleeves and tiny-lensed glasses that darkened in the spotlight, the slight, 66-year-old pianist and his band mates — Gary Peacock (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) — played two quite different sets. The first was oblique and elegant, with the highlights a singing, soaring phrase in the opener, " I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over," and a sprightly edition of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring." A vamping "Fever" never rose above 101, a heavily disguised "Body and Soul" felt tepid (though Peacock stepped out nimbly) and a legato Nat Cole obscurity, "Answer Me My Love," suggested movie music.

Jarrett is notorious for hypersensitivity to crowd noise and cameras, but his reactions to what sounded like a baby crying and an errant cellphone were uncharacteristically affable.

"Everyone thinks I'm always serious," he joked.

The second set was a study in unorthodox tempos. Duke Ellington's usually loping blues, "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," crawled at a Basie-like drag; the usually chipper "I Thought About You" was delivered with eloquent but reticent grace; and the ballad "Autumn Leaves" raced at top speed, with Jarrett rumbling through a long, spiraling phrase that suddenly just ended, as he got up from the piano.

Somehow, this kiss-off felt just right, part of Jarrett's intensely physical relationship with his instrument, in which he appeared to be dancing with a lover, lifting himself from the bench, swaying to and fro, or peering down over his right shoulder, as if to tilt an ear to what the piano was saying.

The evening climaxed with one of Jarrett's deliciously throbbing vamps, raising the energy to a welcome level.

The reverent crowd pulled the trio back for two encores — a pellucid "When I Fall in Love" and "God Bless the Child," bathed in warmth.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

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