tue 23/07/2024

Keith Jarrett, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Keith Jarrett, Royal Festival Hall

Keith Jarrett, Royal Festival Hall

Grand piano man in solo mode

'Taking musical dictation from unseen spirits': Keith Jarrett

How, exactly, are you supposed to review a Keith Jarrett concert – solo, completely improvised, just one man and his Steinway, audience on all sides, ushers walking up and down the aisles bearing signs forbidding any record of the evening's music?

“Someone asked me, ‘How do you know what to play?’” he said to us between one of the half dozen improvisations of the first half of his first-ever concert for the EFG London Jazz Festival. Long pause. Good question. He looked down at his instrument. “This is a really good piano.” In the second half, he had more: “Here's how I do this.” Long pause. “First, no one else does.” Great applause. “Second, to do it like this you have to have had 67 years of playing piano.”

And it shows. His music making was inspired, concentrated, mesmerising, and in between the man himself displayed some of the famous ill will towards surreptitious snappers. You kind of want it to happen – a bit like seeing Pete Townshend smash his guitar. Midway through the second half, there was a walk-off, then a diatribe against that “fucking camera”, followed by a very fast, angrily cascading piece of just a few minutes length, then a dip – a full immersion – into the mid-century American balladlands, touches of the Silver Screen wafting through its crescendos and pools of calm.

The first half of six pieces opened with a walking rhythm, and the subtle dissonances of mid 20th century classical music. That combination of rolling pace and broken phrasing embodied, for me, the static in the air of the headline events of the past week or so. Concentrated sound. Plenty of glissando of the right hand, and the sudden emergence of one repeatedly struck note that suddenly refastened all the music around it, and you hear how the shape has changed, and the fabric hangs quite differently, and is of a new colour.

Themes and forms slipped in and out of focus, and you got the feeling this music is just hanging in the air, ready to be pressed into service and given body. Rivulets of the blues, of Satie, and Beethoven, and Shostakovich, of the Great American Songbook slipped in and out of the flow. In a blues of impressive filigree and girth, Jarrett half rose from his stool, peering over the grand as if looking to musicians not present, but felt, unseen figures for his rich and focused improvisations. A beautiful lyrical piece that closed the first half conjured up a bejewelled Belle Epoche, his piano shapeshifting this grand hall from 21st-century auditorium to some privileged Mitteleuropean intimacy.

Sometimes, he leant very close to his instrument, head cocked, as if it's a keyhole he's putting his ear to, taking musical dictation from unseen spirits, letting them fill his hands with music new and miraculous. On the other hand, he could just be looking for the light of that fucking camera. ​

You got the feeling this music is just hanging in the air, ready to be pressed into service and given body


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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I want some of what you're on.

Abysmal review. I read it because I wanted to know what somebody with a better 'ear' and musical education than me thought of it. You hardly make a single critical judgement in your whole piece and you write with a limp.

This is, in my view, a thoroughly mean-spirited and completely wide-of-the-mark comment on this superb, eloquent review. This review has been syndicated and shared by many Jarrett fans, precisely because it captured the essence of a wonderful, at times surreal, musical experience. It was also first to the press, a considerable achievement, considering the complexity and range of solo pieces that needed reporting on. I don't know what "write with a limp" means...It strikes me as a rather cocky turn of phrase which lacks any real substance, but perhaps denoting a somewhat substantial chip on the shoulder of the person who penned it.

Bottom line: it was outstandingly good.

How do you review a KJ concert? With difficulty because it is such a highly personal thing. The problem with a KJ concert is the baggage that comes with it. This wasn't a jazz gig as it was being run under "classical rules". So no latecomers, no readmittance, no drinks, even water in plastic cups, staff parading around almost shoving signs in peoples faces and addressing miscreants (some were taking photos well before the concert started) in borderline rude tones. We had a protracted house rules presentation (surprised there wasn't a powerpoint presentation). Of course you go expecting the stuff about coughing, cameras etc. The person with the camera did take a shot at one of the encores but did it really require an obscenity? Then were had the encores but weren't really encores because the concert was scheduled to finish at around 10:00 and did so. They did however have the effect of breaking the continuity, destroying the moment. And the music? Quite simply sublime, complete musical perfection at times, moments of magic that took you somewhere else. That's why we put up with the baggage. Cheers John

I travelled from malta especially to come and see Keith Jarrett solo after seeing him with his trio some years back in Paris. This concert left me in awe for the simple reason as we witnessed the 'modern' Bach composing instantly rapid and precise lines that is unique in todays musical world. True it wasent the Jazz standards but we witnessed a genius who keeps evolving tru the years and that is what makes him unique. About his rants about photos coughings etc is just evidence of his trance like concentration this great musician puts for us the audience and rightly so, if it annoys him so we should respect that.

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