on 17 July 2012
Many will be familiar with "Nude Ants" and "Personal Mountains" both recorded within weeks of the concert now released more than 30 years after the event. All of the compositions on "Personal Mountains" are also performed here (and one of which also appears on "Nude Ants") but anyone thinking that ECM are flogging a dead horse should think again. It is the view of many that "Personal Mountains" released a decade after its recording betters "Nude Ants" and, while it is a personal choice, I would go so far as to say that "Sleeper" eclipses both.
To those familiar only with the more recent works of Jarrett and Garbarek (whether indulgent or austere), this fantastic double album will come as a surprise. It is muscular, melodic and never meandering and showcases one of the great jazz groups of the last 40 years at the height of their powers. The 21 minute opening "Personal Mountains" sets the tone which is sustained until the closing "New Dance" - sprightly, rhythmic, tight yet relaxed. Lest there be any doubt this was a group of four giants and Danielsson and Christensen match their better known fellow players. There is so much that can be said about this overdue release but perhaps the following will suffice: current album of the year.
This remarkable recording, released over 30 years downstream from inception by ECM Records, captures the legendary, somewhat youthful Keith Jarrett "European Quartet", (also called "The Belonging Quartet" for their first album) with the highly-inventive Jan Garbarek on tenor sax and flute, and the driving, buoyant rhythmic tandem of Palle Danielsson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums in the group's last known recording session, live at Nakano Sun Plaza in Tokyo Japan on April 16, 1979. The songs and performances are as fresh today as they were then and are re-inventions of earlier EQ Jarrett songs. Each song is a separate sonic jewel, and some highlights are the 20 minute intense "Personal Mountains" with Danielsson and Christensen pouring on the heat for the mostly uptempo searing improvisations of Jarrett, Garbarek, and Christensen as well, eventually giving way to the early shimmering 3/4 time reflection of "Innocence". The wonderously beautiful ballad "So Tender" morphs from warm ballad to frenetic invention with Garbarek's finest solo of the date. And perhaps best of all the mercurial 28 minute "Oasis" with it's many different and wonderful dimensions, especially Garbarek's highly effective work on tenor and wooden flute and some amazing percussive Jarrett improvisations. And finally the excellence of the sizzling heavy-duty funk/gospel of "Chant of the Soil" with telling solos and support from Jarrett and Garbarek. This is my initial exposure to this group and they produce fabulous, very impressive jazz that is stunning at times. My Highest Recommendation. Five INTENSE Stars! (7 tracks, based on an iTunes download; Times: Personal Mountains-21:12; Innocence-10:48; So Tender-13:27; Oasis-28:14; Chant of the Soil-14:53; Prism-11:15; and the encore New Dance-7:07. Note the actual individual track times.)
on 5 August 2012
This recording is ESSENTIAL for any Keith Jarrett or Jan Garbarek fan. IMHO this is one of Jarrett's top-ten recordings within a huge catalogue and, in a year's time I anticipate that it might even consolidate within my personal top-five - it's that good.
Indeed, this is essential for any lover of (modern) jazz.
If, like me, you wondered over the decades how the story-telling beauty of the definitive 'Belonging' and 'My song' (studio) albums might have translated when performed 'live', then this gets close - very close indeed. I mention this as, whilst the 'live' 'Nude Ants' recording together with 'Personal Mountains' remain wonderful and important, there is a tendency sometimes for the music to meander and lose focus somehow, or even to try a bit too hard, particularly during passages of 'Nude Ants'. With 'Sleeper', however, this fabulous quartet are in the so-called, 'zone' throughout this concert and there is an sheer abundance of musical creativity that leaves one awe-inspired.
Characteristic of ECM, this excellent 'live' recording (and gorgeous, sonorous piano) captures the musicians as they stretch-out. Garbarek is unleashed and seems at-ease and confident in this setting: his tone on tenor to 'die for', complete with long probing, driving lines, and characteristic icy-toned over-blowings fueled by Jarrett's constantly inventive playing and accompaniment - not forgetting the dazzling support from the excellent Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen. Garbarek's extraordinary, unmistakable tenor playing is characteristically organised, yet open to further possibilities within the spaces the compositions allow and, at times, despite Garbarek's unique voice and tone, I wondered if I was listening instead to Wayne Shorter at his best given Garbarek's inventiveness and shadings of light and dark.
Importantly, it is Keith Jarrett who is also on top-form: an effervescent form of musical ADHD: surging, busy, lyrical, mercurial, romantic and deliciously delicate at times; classical, and ever-ransacking the history of jazz piano with his torrent of musical ideas: a cascade of inventiveness that would equal Michael Phelps' achievements of Olympic Gold medals if 'jazz' were an Olympic event! There's also something deeply joyous to their playing avoiding some of the darker, melancholic landscapes that some of Jarrett's later recordings often inhabit.
'Sleeper' is rather like and echoes his legendary 'Koln Concert' in a quartet form given its sheer energy and exhuberance and grips one's attention from the start. There's a fabulous version of Jarrett's bouyant 'So tender', a composition that famously opens his excellent Trio recording, 'Standards Vol 2', and this time, Garbarek's solo adds much fire to this pretty piece following the gentle prelude, and Jarrett's Evanesque chords reminds the listener of his relationship to the heritage of the late, great Bill Evans, (and his own solo on (side 2) of his brilliant 'The Survivors' Suite'). And then there's the 'aftermath' as this gorgeous piece concludes: hypnotic; moving, and wonderfully devoid of self-consciousness. An epilogue of pure beauty and definitive Keith Jarrett!
The Best Jazz cd release of 2012. Period. Thank you ECM!
on 24 October 2013
I was excited when I heard this was being released. Jarrett releases a trio album a year now, but this is from 1979, just before the European band finished up. ECM have released 'Personal Mountains' a five track album from this tour back in 1989, and there was also the double LP 'Nude Ants' from 1980, but that suffered from below par audio fidelity that ECM rarely showcased. 'Sleeper' however is a proper live recording with material fans will already have heard but it's the subtle differences in the performances that make it essential if you like Keith Jarrett, especially with this band. This has been dug out of the vaults, remastered and it's anything but a sleeper.
on 11 August 2012
Much jazz produced today is technically brilliant but it is cold and lacks emotion. This concert has it all , you can laugh, you can cry to this music and most of all it has emotion. KJs 1970s Scandinavian quartette was a pinnacle of music released by ECM and one can only wonder what gems lie in their vaults. Please release it whilst I am still on the planet.
on 21 February 2013
If you are going to use my BBC reviews on Amazon, please can you ensure you credit them to John Eyles, not to someone who had no hand in writing them - who is Raziq Rauf, certainly not the writer of the BBC review of Sleeper! Thanks John Eyles
on 29 July 2012
Just listened to the first CD, it's great! I buy all of Keith's albums as they come out with monotonous regularity, this is exactly what we've been missing for a long time, there's a whole lot more electricity, beauty and captivating side-steps, now I'm looking forward to playing CD2 later on...is it the holy grail? Watch this space..! (Actually, if you want the holy grail it's 'Tribute')
on 29 August 2012
Goodness me, how come this has been in the vaults for so long? For me this is a way superior release to both contemporary outings by the same group - Personal Mountains being a studio date which maybe lacks some of the character of other work by this group, and Nude Ants which is musically fine but a rather indifferent live recording that I find hard to warm to.
I rate this as being as good as Belonging. 'Nuff said.