Back in the saddle
Pianist Keith Jarrett is something of a legend among contemporary jazz musicians, his Koln Concerts released in 1975 is still the best selling album in the ECM catalogue and although his output has slowed in recent times his career spans 50 years plus. Jarrett’s work is split between solo and group projects and the so-called Standards trio that he formed with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette was the longest running of these, their first relase, Standards Vol.1, came out in 1983 and the latest to have surfaced thus far is 2009’s Somewhere.
The music on After the Fall was recorded live in 1998 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre but has only just been released. Prior to this concert Jarrett had been suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and hadn’t played live since the ‘fall’ of 1986 and decided to make a tentative comeback to live work at this venue because it was only an hour away from his home. Jarrett’s recorded output has largely been improvised but in the last two decades he has turned his attention to standards, making his own music for so long presumably gave him a new respect for well composed tunes. For this event he decided to play be-bop because, as he puts it in the sleeve notes: “I didn’t think I needed to play as hard as I often did (as my energy still seemed too low to “dig in” too much)”.
A statement that had me concerned that this might be a limp performance put out because Jarrett’s health of late has meant that new releases are getting scarcer. But that isn’t the case, by the time you get to Bouncin’ with Bud on the second of the two discs the piano playing is spirited and spritely, Jarrett may not have been able to express himself as fully as he’s been known to but his technique and enthusiasm do not seem to have suffered. The tunes vary in tempo and energy but are pretty upbeat for the most part, showing the trio’s remarkable skill at locking into and then playing with a groove. It’s nice to hear more reflective playing on songs like Late Lament but this is partly because it contrasts with the vitality of other numbers. An unlikely highlight is Santa Claus is Coming to Town, hardly a jazz standard but when this band leans into it there’s a lot to enjoy, especially the combination of Jarrett’s left hand and Peacock’s weighty double bass.
Recording quality is high as with every ECM but not quite as pristine as they can be, the concert wasn’t originally intended to be released as it was recorded to DAT (digital audio tape) at the mixing desk, but as Jarrett was happy with the results it has come to light 20 years later. A good thing too, in some ways the pianist’s limited energies leave a bit more space for his fellow musicians to fill and they do it exceptionally well. DeJohnette’s fills are often a delight and Peacocks ability to play around the piano is masterful.
After the Fall is not the greatest performance from this trio but it gives plenty of insight into why it is held in such high regard and will inspire listeners to seek out the highlights of their extensive back catalogue.