In a recent interview with the New York Times Keith Jarrett (1945) explained why he has not appeared in public for some time. In 2018, the American pianist had two strokes that left him unable to use his left hand.
Jarrett had interrupted his impressive career in the late 1990s because of his chronic fatigue syndrome, but he recovered from that. In the past two decades, the pianist gave many memorable concerts and added a large number of beautiful albums to his already impressive oeuvre.
This time, however, the curtain seems to have finally dropped on the unique keyboard wizard. On his recently released Budapest Concert, Jarrett once again shows what he was capable of. The fact that Jarrett chose this concert is significant: the pianist has Hungarian roots and his recital in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in 2016 felt for him like coming home.
Jarrett improvised his solo concerts, but they followed a fixed pattern. The first hour and a half were like a musical struggle with himself and his grand piano. Jarrett demanded complete attention from his audience and did not want to be disturbed by coughing, murmuring or by clicking cameras. On stage, he would concentrate in silence for minutes before actually attacking the keys. Musically, he could go in any direction, from complex, indefinable tone sequences to a concise blues with a highly inspired timing. If his audience had followed him breathlessly on his musical journey upwards, he rewarded them with encores in the form of chillingly beautiful arrangements of folk songs and jazz standards.
The Budapest concert starts with an ominous sounding, harmonically and rhythmically complicated suite. The second piece is lighter and more lyrical in tone and contains recognisable musical winks. The album closes with two pieces that Jarrett played before, but which take on more meaning knowing that this was the last time. The master plays a long version of ‘It’s A Lonesome Old Town’ and the downright beautiful ‘Answer Me, My Love’. Jarrett was so pleased with this concert that he labelled this recording his “new gold standard”.
Although Keith Jarrett does not like to talk about the depths of his soul, he is known to be a member of the Christian Science Church (not to be confused with the Scientology movement). Illness is considered to be the direct result of a disturbed relationship with God in these circles. Jarrett recovered from his fatigue syndrome by working on that relationship. In the sparse explanations Jarrett gives about his music, he points to its divine origin: “I only pass on what is handed down to me from above.” Knowing this, it is easier to understand how seriously Jarrett takes his music and why he demands the same attention from his audience. Each concert is a battle with the disturbed cosmic balance and Jarrett literally tackles his piano, making emphatic sounds that can also be heard on his albums.
In this latest disease process, nothing can be ruled out, but fans of Jarrett’s music will have to make do for the time being with the material that is available, and fortunately that’s a lot. Jarrett’s production can roughly be divided into three groups: solo concerts, trio arrangements of jazz standards (with bassist Gary Peacock , who died last year and drummer Jack DeJohnette) and classical piano albums with music by Bach, Mozart, Handel, Shostakovich and Béla Bartók. In the latter category, Jarrett places himself in the service of the composer and omits uncontrolled movements and groans.
Keith Jarrett – ECM
‘Answer Me, My Love’: