Keith Jarrett has been quoted, and repeated in the liner notes to this release, as saying “I have courted the fire for a very long time, and many sparks have flown in the past, but the music on this recording speaks, finally, the language of the flame itself” - typically modest and humble comments from the man himself, which admittedly don’t reach the level of self-belief of his ‘La Scala’ liner notes, but taken on their own terms, do speak the truth. Considered by Jarrett to be his most epic and simply best live improvisation, Vienna really is, from beginning to end, the most complete of his performances to date.
Part I is the centrepiece of the recording, and at forty-two minutes effectively divides itself into several movements. The first, at a dozen minutes, creates a simple and beautiful theme, and toys with it in various ways, slowly building the tension and creating a musical story. Beautiful, the music approaches an almost transcendant quality, before the second movement comes in, beginning quietly and then rising itself to a climactic crescendo. Seguing into another basic theme, Jarrett comes down in mood for the piece’s coda, quoting the theme from the earlier movement in a different manner, before ending with a truly sublime falling cascading motion of notes, allowing the listener a soft and satisfying conclusion to easily one of his most complete and ultimate performances.
One of the finest improvisations you will ever hear from Jarrett, or anyone, the way the themes are built into a tight narrative almost convinces you that the piece had to be composed. Possessing a devastatingly beautiful melody that builds into a soulful swagger and leads admittedly to a few of Jarrett’s trademark ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ as he knows he’s hit the right spots. Moments build and ease away, picquing the listeners’ interest and then drawing them in closer.
The second piece here starts with much more intensity than the first and overall doesn’t feel quite as varied, lacking the build and fall of the earlier piece. The prowess of Jarretts’ piano playing though is much on display as the music flows through a number of astounding movements and passages. Playing around a basic groove, it lacks perhaps the sophistication of Part I, and there is maybe a slight hint of Jarrett being tired after that gargantuan epic. More like a coda to the first part than a second individual performance, but as a stand alone it is an impressive piece.
The whole concert here is one of the most soulful and beautiful Jarrett has ever played. Even with the many wonderful works of beauty he has created spontaneously, this one glorious night in Vienna stands as his peak, with perhaps only his much-loved Koln concert to rival it. It is music of the highest calibre.