Live Reviews: Keith Jarrett

Live Reviews: Keith Jarrett

Royal Festival Hall, London1 December 2008Euphoric applause greeted Keith Jarrett as he slowly ambled his way towards the spotlit Steinway. He bowed politely, hands together and just about raised a smile when an ardent admirer shouted ‘I LUV YOU KEITH!’,...

Royal Festival Hall, London
1 December 2008

Euphoric applause greeted Keith Jarrett as he slowly ambled his way towards the spotlit Steinway. He bowed politely, hands together and just about raised a smile when an ardent admirer shouted ‘I LUV YOU KEITH!’, before playing his first solo concert in London for seventeen years. Jarrett displayed a remarkable breadth of musicality throughout the concert and, for all his technique, he can make a gospel number or twelve-bar blues sound like it should: unadorned, funky and reverent all at the same time.

Gone are the forty minute improvisations of the 70s and 80s, most famously the Köln concert recording – the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of jazz. Instead, Jarrett presented twelve distinct, shortish improvisations, with six pieces per half. If you have heard any Keith Jarrett solo recordings, then you know what can happen at his solo concerts. Fast bleak flurries of a near-atonal landscape; simple, funky vamps over tremolo bass; a rutty blues; a delicately melodied ballad and some elements of magic/ego in a dangerous, if unique, equilibrium. With a shorter timespan though, it was as if Jarrett drove his ideas to hit the ground running. Nearly all the improvisations had an immediately defined character and while Jarrett never allowed his virtuosity to starve the ideas, a sense of transition (and impact) was sometimes sacrificed for the sake of keeping the material contained.

It is a joy to see the physicality of Jarrett’s performance: half seated, half stamped, almost danced, his determination to draw vibrato through the keys, and of course his unique vocalisations. He demands silence, and chastised the audience for excessive coughing (on a cold December night) and for one intrusive camera flash. ‘What is it about this world that demands an image?’ brought a roar of applause. Perhaps his scolding fused a collective energy. The improvisations which followed were some of the best.  

As Jarrett returned to the stage after two sublime encores (‘My Song’ and ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’) and approached the microphone, you could sense an air of apprehension, and not for the first time in the evening. ‘You see,’ he said with self-assurance, ‘It’s all about the energy.’

All Jarrett demands is the listener’s absolute attention. It comes as no surprise then to learn that Jarrett’s favourite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach. The material might be recycled, but in the hands of genius, the music, and the listener, are always transformed.

Published on 1 January 2009

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