I had high hopes for this as it was recorded at around the same time as Spirits - another atypical Jarrett album where he played all the instruments which was rather good. Im not too sure about this one. Its under-produced which is probably what you would expect as it is Keith just throwing it together but the lack of separation of the instruments leasves it sounding a little flat and dull. As for ideas, its not exactly lacking in them but I think that Keith's limited technique on guitar and bass lets it down. He can drum though and his percussion is very good. At times its a bit like a more tribal Bitches Brew kind of vibe but it does become a bit samey after a while. I was going to say its called "No End" and by track 5 I was beginning to long for one but that would be unkind. I couldnt possibly recommend this to anyone other than a rabid Jarrett fan. In a blindfold test, not knowing who it was, the first listen would probably result in this going straight to the charity shop. Like Keith I also have a recording studio where I noodle around. If I had recorded this and let my other half listen to it - I reckon she would probably say "its not your best is it?"
For me, a good reference point for this recording is late '60s/early '70s Grateful Dead - Jarrett's tone on electric guitar, the relationship between the guitars, the prominence of bass and the drums/percussion remind me of Dead pieces like Dark Star. This was my immediate reaction, but it was reinforced by Jarrett's mention in the liner notes of being in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in the 1960s. The influences are different, of course, and I hear traces of Latin, Middle Eastern and other musics. The pieces are more "tone poems" than structured songs. Very enjoyable.
There has been a lot of activity in the Jarrett camp in the last six months and ECM have released no less than four albums from him. Last May gave us 'Somewhere', an excellent trio live recording. September gave us a double CD collection of Bach Sonatas with Jarrett on piano and Michelle Mararski on cello. This month sees the full release of Concerts (Bregenz/Munich) from 1981 as a full three CD (Bregenz only made it to CD), and also 'No End' a collection of 20 tracks that Jarrett recorded in 1986 at home. When I first listened to previews of this on Amazon I was very excited because it was Jarrett playing electric bass, guitar and drums/percussion. It was recorded and overdubbed on two Tandenberg cassette decks at his home studio and it is more or less Jarrett jamming with himself. While the quality is clear for such an old recording, it has a slightly brittle hissy cassette deck quality, but I don't mind that as I feel modern recording techniques are very sterile and can often make music sound tiring. I am also a musician myself and I have recorded a lot of 4 track demos over the years before I went digital so this sounds fine to me. What about the actual music? There are a lot of styles and rhythms here and while the guitar tone is always nearly the same clean tone, his guitar playing is pretty one dimensional. You won't find any John McLaughlin licks here. The drums are pretty good though and Jarrett has got that swing no matter what he plays. His bass playing is pretty simple too but this is deep on the recordings and offers sufficient bottom end with groove where it's needed. The percussion scratches and shakes away just like on his early 1970s albums and this gives a tribal effect to this album. I can't help imagining a Steinway grand when I hear some of the guitar notes. You can always hear Jarrett through the notes. It's a long album that seems to slip by fairly quickly but I've only listened to it a few times. In the sleeve notes he tells how he's always loved percussive instruments such as drums and guitars, speaking of the latter, it would have been nice to hear some overdrive on the 'deep red Gibson solid-body (presumably a Les Paul?) but he keeps the tone clean throughout although I'm sure I can hear a chorus pedal on a guitar on track 2, CD2. There is piano on track 10 on CD1 and this immediately feels like the missing element on some of the other tracks. Jarrett has said this was like some unreleased follow up to the 1986 double LP Spirits (another lo-fi affair recorded the previous year in the same fashion but with a different array of instruments) but I guess it's alright to say that in retrospect, after all it is nearly 30 years ago. This album will probably not delight listeners and fans of the Trio, or fans of Jarrett's solo piano work but it is what it is, and that seems to me to be the work of a man taking time off from the constant composing, recording and touring he was doing year in, year out, up to that point and after. There is a lot of freedom in the music recorded here and it could have been easily recorded a decade earlier as there is no technological references in the recordings to suggest the mid eighties. Well, is it a masterpiece? No. Was Spirits a masterpiece? No. But 'No End' is what it is and it is another facet of the creativity of Keith Jarrett which in itself seems to have no end.
On the drum-percussion side, with the occasional eastern influences, another comparison may be drawn to the Dead camp for me, as I heard echoes of Diga Rhythm Band, one of Mickey Hart's projects. The album does contain some other flavours with a Caribbean feel on one and what sound like folk influences on another. The pieces on this album do appear to be fragments to me which just appear then fade away again, a strange effect.
So how does one sum up this most peculiar album - well, for anyone expecting Jarrett's normal piano wizardry, forget it; for anyone with a passion for the Dead, or for folk willing to try something leftfield - give it a go, and see what you think!