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After all this time ... a Surprise!
on 14 January 2008
With the exception of the occasional, pattern-breaking release (such as Changeless or Always Let Me Go) you know pretty much exactly what you're getting with the Keith Jarrett Trio: a flawless but too often uninvolving meander through standards material that seems well within the capabilities of the three performers. While the group has occasionally scaled dizzy heights (as with the Blue Note Complete Recordings boxed set) it has more usually proved the ideal piano trio for jazz fans who don't like to be surprised or challenged.
For the first half hour of this two disc set, everything runs to the well-established pattern: the title track and "What's New?" are given the trademark ballad treatment, while busy soloing fleshes out the faster numbers. Then, however, something happens that the liner notes tell is unique for a concert by this trio: Jarrett breaks into a stride style for "Ain't Misbehavin'", and then maintains that style for "Honeysuckle Rose" and "You Took Advantage of Me".
Now there's no denying that we don't need a player of Keith Jarrett's calibre to start playing ragtime, but the performances are so perfectly achieved that the listener finds himself or herself in a Woody Allen film (one of the funny ones) for twenty minutes. DeJohnette, forced into the role of trad timekeeper, becomes witty and subversive; another reviewer criticizes the performance here, but it's almost forced upon him by the context. Peacock (too low in the mix, not for the first time) almost disappears until his solo spots, when his playing is probing and far from pastiche.
After such a streak of off-kilter brilliance, "Straight, No Chaser" goes almost to an opposite extreme, delivering one of the hottest performances ever from the trio. Here the tempo is notably faster than the versions of this piece on Blue Note or Bye Bye Blackbird, and Peacock takes a lively solo early. Then, two minutes in, Jarrett and DeJohnette are again unlike themselves: squabbling over the tempo, each seeming determined to throw one another off. Indeed, Jarrett is so deep into the track that after it finishes he interrupts the applause to play unaccompanied for forty seconds of intense jazz counterpoint. It's the track to play to anyone who dismisses Jarrett as aural prozac.
Not the last track on this long album, but the last in this purple patch is a performance of "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" that is almost the quintessential Jarrett ballad performance; for over ten minutes, he is again a pure, unapologetic melodist.
For a third of its length, this album is one of the best that the Keith Jarrett Trio has released, and I can't think of another one of their albums that can boast a longer period of inspiration. The rest of the album is business as usual, which is still a recommendation. For fans, it is a definite safe purchase, and the curious can approach it with confidence.