Paris / London - Testament Box set
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Released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of ECM, these solo concerts from the great American pianist are recordings to put alongside the very finest in Keith Jarrett's solo idiom. Recorded in 2008, they are released as a specially priced 3-CD set.
At the end of 2008, Keith Jarrett added two concerts to his schedule at short notice - one at Paris's Salle Pleyel (November 26), one at London's Royal Festival Hall (December 1). The results were outstanding, even by Jarrett's own high standards, with powerful emotions never far from the music's surface. The open format, embracing much music in shorter episodes, makes the work in "the tradition" of Radiance, but there are also flashes of the existential poetic flair which made for instance the Sun Bear Concerts a special musical experience. In his liner notes, Jarrett gives a highly personal account of the music's inspirational genesis. The English date was Jarrett's first London solo concert for 18 years and, to quote one reviewer, "triggered the sort of ecstasy that might greet a returning prophet".
Solo recordings have accounted for some of Keith Jarrett's best-loved discs - from 'Facing You' to 'Vienna Concert', 'La Scala', 'The Carnegie Hall Concert' and more. 'The Köln Concert', of course, was to become one of the best-selling 'jazz' albums of all time, as well as the best-selling solo piano album in any genre, an album whose popularity has never waned. Now 'Testament' further documents the exceptional nature of Jarrett's solo music in the 21st century.
Personnel: Keith Jarrett (piano)
Three CDs containing two concerts’ worth of solo, wholly improvised piano music lasting two hours and 42 minutes. The bare facts of Keith Jarrett’s latest release for ECM may appear a little intimidating, but the music is truly exploratory, deeply felt and often very moving.
The first concert, recorded in Salle Pleyel, Paris in November 2008, is a rich, dark affair. The first two parts appear to gradually rise up out of roiling lower registers. It’s a little reminiscent of Chopin’s Preludes, whose darkly romantic sketches were described by Robert Schumann as “... ruins, individual eagle pinions, all disorder and wild confusions”. The comparison is leant weight by the circumstances in which the concerts took place: the pianist describes in the CD’s liner notes how these concerts served as sink or swim lifelines he threw himself after his wife of 30 years had left him.
Part III briefly spells out a gentle, forgiving melody that’s almost submerged by ringing notes as though Jarrett refuses the thought of clemency. Part IV is chaotic, notes spilling out in darting, thrilling runs shadowed by Jarrett’s freeform glossolalia. The effect is almost frightening in its physicality and forms a pivotal moment for the concert. Parts VI and VII lighten the mood and introduce a welcome sense of space and light. VII is shot through with hard-won benevolence and reaches for a glory that Part VIII deftly sidesteps with up-tempo note clusters and sudden pauses.
The second concert, recorded at London’s Royal Festival Hall a few days later, begins in similarly sombre territory, but Jarrett goes on to perform a much more varied set than Paris. Part II is fierce in its sudden, oblique attack while its strongly rhythmic basis drives the music forward. Part III is notably gospel-infused and celebratory while Part IV is the most delicate so far comprising waterfall-like high notes. Overall, the concert seems to lack the narrative cohesion of the first disc but it remains a pleasure to follow all the same. --Colin Buttimer
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These concerts were recorded whist Jarrett was still recovering from his second wife walking out on him, and was not mentally that strong. Perhaps the stress, anguish, and emotional turmoil was the driving force to create such emotive music. Both concerts follow the Radiance style insofar that the improvisations are broken into sections, 12 for London. It starts with a melancholic piece, and moves through a more abstract section, rhythmic, almost blues based pieces, pulsating moods, beautiful pieces and culminates with a piece with a touch of gospel in the theme.
I love Jarrett's trio work, but his solo concerts are the diamonds. The impact London has made on me is enormous on the first play, with some of the most intense, emotional playing I have heard from him for a long time - it's an absolute joy!
Unlike most Jarrett albums, there is an informative booklet with a 5 page essay by the man himself talking about why he moved to sectionalised works, rather than the mammoth length pieces he used to perform, the effect that producing such works has on himself, and his marriage break up - it really sets the scene.
Although not relevant to the music, I am delighted that the set comes completely in cardboard,(3 wallets in a slipcase), as not only is it environmentally sound, I abhor those plastic boxes, well done ECM.
The London concert is as most seem to know amongst the finest he has ever done, and going by the sleeve notes KJ too. His personal circumstances surrounding the concert bring out music of staggering depth and feeling. I am left breathless after each listen. The second disc of London parts VII-XII blows me away.
If you are a fan you will buy it anyway an if you are new to his music get it too listen with an open mind and be amazed. Most people would cite the Koln concert as his best and more accessible, but I find this more rewarding in the long run. At 64 he is still coming up with fresh ideas, long may he do much more as he obviously has much more to say with the power of the the piano at his fingertips.
As I approached the entrance to the Festival Hall, I was met by a man shouting, "Anyone want a ticket?" No, he was not a tout, there were no touts that I could see. It turned out that one of this man's party had just phoned him to say he was not able to make the concert, hence his ticket was going spare. And so the magic began...
As an improvising musician myself, MY experience and expectation is that it normally takes a minute or three before the greatest creative goodies start to reveal themselves. But Jarrett was having none of THAT. The INSTANT he started to play, I realised he had gone straight to a point of intense inspiration, this first piece having a most mystical and other worldly quality. As the evening progressed, Jarrett continued to express this musical fire, without lapse or stagnation, every note full of life and love! His playing was stylistically diverse, always inspired and, really, quite amazing! I left the venue changed, healed, shocked!
I have enjoyed many of Jarrett's solo offerings but, for me, this is the very best. The recording quality is fine, if not quite as lush sounding as a couple of Jarrett's other solo offerings. The first CD in this three CD set, recorded in Paris, is also rather special though I am more in love with the London concert, no doubt because I was in the room when that baby was born!
As you might have guessed by now, I very highly recommend this CD set!
Jarrett's odd grumbles with the audience, for which he has made a name for himself, are completely forgiven in my opinion taking into account the magic ambience he created that evening!
Every time I hear this album, small subtleties emerge that I quite obviously must have missed while trying to get a glimpse of his fingers through some binoculars. I agree with previous reviews in that the Paris concert, to me, seems slightly inferior and almost a "warm up" for the London concert with some ideas presented in one and developed in the other.
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