By this point, together for almost twenty years, the trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette are easily the longest association and most constant group in jazz. All three masters of their individual craft, since first getting together their collective skill and interaction has resulted in an empathy and that almost no-one else can touch.
Preferring to avoid the more avant regions with which the members have individually sometimes gone to, either solo or with other groups, this Standards Trio have chosen instead to focus for the most part on original and sometimes surprising takes on classic jazz tunes. So, recorded at the Munich State Opera, ‘The Out Of Towners’ like all of the trios releases, comes with great anticipation. But, as some naysayers may enquire, what differentiates this from the many others in the trios’ catalogue?
To start, the sound recording here is absolutely pristine. I strongly doubt you’ll ever find a better live recording of a piano trio than you will here - the clarity of the sound is superb. But also just as importantly the song choices are more than just the usual standards.
Opening with a brief solo introduction, Jarrett makes ‘I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me’ a lovely and complex rendition. And the way the rhythm duo enters behind him is so smooth it should be used as textbook for any aspiring group out there. Later ‘You’ve Changed’ is a gorgeous ballad and is a perfect example of how this group takes a song you think you know and is able to just open it up – presenting it in a new way that somehow enhances the melody of the piece.
Gerry Mulligans ‘Five Brothers’ swings as it was meant to do and Cole Porters ‘I Love You’ is near-perfection, only just a tad marred by a frankly odd and unengaging cymbals-only solo. The best trio piece here though is the Jarrett original title track; a lengthy and funky blues-gospel, it benefits greatly from some inspired soloing by Peacock. For those that - understandably - bemoan Jarretts lack of composition more recently, here is a shining example of his compositional talents, but one that is undeniably improved by the intuition of the band.
As an encore we are given a tranquil yet moving ‘It’s All In the Game’, in which Jarrett performs solo – his first in this context for two years, and live for six years, since 1995s ‘La Scala’. Perfectly as in the moment as his famous solo recordings, he shows great restraint and stays true to the melodically-rich piece. Achingly beautiful, it is unreservedly a highlight of Jarretts career.
A good starter for anyone unfamiliar to the trio, it’s also be a great additional volume for fans of the trio and their other recordings, showing as it does an incredible raising of the art of interpretation to what is arguably an even higher level. The way they play these tunes is so fresh that each of them can sound like an entirely new piece each and every time they sit down to play it. The sheer breadth of material and playing here gives the impression of something very complete, and Jarretts final stirring playing is so heartfelt, you’d have to possess the stoniest of hearts not to be entirely transfixed. ‘The Out Of Towners’ is stellar Standards Trio, but more than that, it is stellar piano trio, and simply brilliant music.