Ever in the mood for something a little more soothing? This is a recording made for just those occasions. Less frenetic than "Backhand", more accessible than "Fort Yawuh", "Arbour Zena" is Jarrett at his most measured and thoughtful. There are no drums, so the music doesn't really swing, let alone rock, but that doesn't mean there isn't something moving about these three long compositions for piano, bass, sax, and strings.
"Runes" has Jarrett framing chords for the strings, while sax master Jan Garbarek adds sinuous glissandos and Charlie Haden provides drive with the high "chattering" bass assault that he has used to great effect on some of Jarrett's gamelan pieces. The effect is that of an ancient spirit of the veldt speaking to us in fervid, almost menacing tones. "Solara March" wanders through some gentle, delicate themes for while, until Jarrett picks out a solid rhythm and the music starts to move. "Mirrors" is the longest track, the strings starting with a hymn-like, almost fugal structure. There's a more strongly rhythmic passage toward the middle, and a section where piano, sax, and strings are all putting out lines at a more urgent pace, but the overall effect, while beautiful, is more relaxing than exciting.
Jarrett says that the music on this album was composed rather than improvised, although much of it certainly has an improvised feel. One by-product of this is that the sometimes annoying, (and even off-key) accompaniment of Jarrett's thin, squeaky voice is wholly absent here, a fact that some listeners may consider a godsend. Overall, this material is stately, graceful, lyrical, and somehow very reassuring. If you've stayed away from Jarrett because you found him too raucous, this could be the CD that changes your mind. Restrained artistry for a more refined taste.