As big a fan as I am of Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Vijay Iyer, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, and many more, it is Keith Jarrett whose piano sound I find myself craving the most. Why? I'm sure I could write a book, and still not quite put my finger on the exact reasons, but needless to say it is Jarrett's solo, trio and quartet works that reach me the most. In his time too he has issued two bumper six-disc 'complete' sets, one featuring all the solo concerts from a tour in Japan, and this one below, a set showcasing a complete three-night residency at New York's famous Blue Note club.
When reviewing a piano trio of any notable standing, it has become the standard expectation of the reader, almost to the point of cliché, that at some point the reviewer will insert some words of comparison with the classic Bill Evans trio of Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Truly groundbreaking, that superb group redefined the way a trio could play, in just the short few years that they were together. This is especially evident on the live performances they recorded, for most with the universally lauded ‘Complete Village Vanguard Recordings’ set, from which the individual albums ‘Sunday At The Village Vanguard’ and ‘Waltz For Debby’ were also pulled. With no disrespect to those outstanding musicians or recordings intended, that constant source for comparison needs to be toned down, if only through overuse, but also because Keith Jarrett’s trio comprising himself, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, have arguably set a new template.
Having played together since 1983, the ‘At The Blue Note’ box-set documents a three-night residency at the
York venue from June 3rd to the 5th
in 1994, with each disc giving us a complete set. Typical of the trio, they
ignore the usual dynamics of the bass and drums simply providing rhythm and
marking time for the lead of the piano. Instead each of the group, with Jarrett
providing the guiding voice, has the freedom to explore whatever avenues are
suggested by the tunes. And as such each of the tunes here are presented in
many varied ways, with some pieces being played as written (‘When I Fall In
Love’), others with stretching out the melody or bridge (‘Things Ain’t What
They Used To Be’), and others are completely deconstructed and played in a way
never heard before. ‘How Long Has This Been Going On?’ at nine minutes for
example never once comes close to stating the melody of the song until it’s pretty
With massive live documents such as this (thirty-eight tracks over six discs in a hefty but sturdy box), you can often expect a good deal of repeated songs – hopefully each time played in a different style or pace. Here though only three pieces are repeated over the six sets, including a very welcome take on Jarrett’s own ‘No More Lonely Nights’, which serves to show us just how perfectly this band can resolutely never play the same piece the same way twice. And even on recorded sound with no visual aid of being there, you can sense the palpable excitement of the players as they push each other further on to their shared goal.
The sound here is truly remarkable too - as indeed are all ECM live recordings. Peacock has never sounded better, with his bass deep and heavy, mixing perfectly with the always impressive cymbal work and here incredibly vibrant playing from DeJohnette. And of course Jarrett sounds pristine, his piano and perfectly light touch never captured badly. Each note is played with a pristine touch and pitch, and the cascading runs feel fluid and beautiful everywhere throughout this set.
And again, as with all live events captured by Manfred Eicher, the audience is there, but not intrusively so; you can feel them and after each song you can hear their appreciative and sometimes rapturous applause, but they never interrupt the music – save one occasion on the first night and set opener ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’, where you can clearly hear a bottle go tumbling from one of the tables.
An outstanding trio, captured crisply in an intimate and world-famous venue, this is high-calibre in every sense of the word. This is a stellar group captured at a then peak of their abilities and their collective telepathy. At six hours and a hefty price tag, it is a lot of music for a lot of money, but you won’t find a better collected document of the three playing together, and to be able to hear every recorded note of a whole residency really is something else. For the newcomer, there are good one and two-disc sets of this group, including a single-disc one-set performance from this box. But for the fan who already owns some of this so dubbed ‘standards trio’, and loves the sound of a piano trio is full swing, this is invaluable. A five-star collection in every way. And the trio's take on Monk's 'Straight, No Chaser' here is absolute class.