Live Music: Keith Jarrett performs solo at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Michael Katz

Keith Jarrett and Disney Hall were a perfect match Tuesday night. It wasn’t just the pristine acoustics of the hall, its warm interiors surrounding Jarrett’s solo piano. An adoring capacity house brought him back for three encores, even coaxing Jarrett to converse gently with them on several occasions.

The performance itself was a series of improvisations, in the spirit of his recent CD Rio, a 2 disc set from a live performance in Rio De Janeiro. The connection was evident in the opening piece, which began with Jarrett plucking the piano wires and tapping the frame, giving the audience a visceral feeling that they were embarking on a journey, if not into Amazonia, then at least into Jarrett’s own musical imaginings. There was a sense of taking a few bends in the river, then being untethered from workaday boundaries.

What followed was a series of musical meanderings – at one point Jarrett remarked that critics had described it as the “short new me.”

Looking through my own notes is like trying to trace back bread crumbs: “hints of blues…sentimental theme, bright riffing…subdued and introspective….elegiac…gospel-ly…sounds like Something I Should Know…” At no point did Jarrett indulge in pyrotechnics, no breathless runs through the keyboard; neither did he veer into the atonal. There was no sense of wasted chords, or even notes; he is spare without being simple. Returning to the river analogy, I felt like I was rafting down the Colorado with a guide who would say, “Let’s see what this side canyon looks like.” And off we would go, drifting along, picking up pace through the eddies, then rejoining the river, listening for rapids ahead.

There were times when I had an uneasy feel, that Something Should Be Happening. Jarrett would build tension with a dance through the piano’s upper registers, or a few impending bass notes. It seemed like a score in search of a scene. Unlike a standard tune with its familiar lyrics, improvisation leaves the audience to find its own frame of reference. And before the vague discomfort settled in, Jarrett would dart off somewhere else. After the intermission, he settled into some slightly longer themes. A bluesy, foot tapping riff energized the crowd, there were moments of gospel in a later piece that nominally closed the show.

If the second half seemed too short, the encores filled out the evening. The first one was clearly anticipated. It was a lovely elegy, ebbing and flowing, providing what would have been a perfectly satisfying end to the journey. But the audience was clearly not ready to disembark, and Jarrett returned and took them on another brief trip around the harbor. When a third encore was demanded, the pianist contemplated the situation, took a few false steps, then settled into the familiar bridge to “Over The Rainbow.”

Jarrett has devoted plenty of attention to American standards, mostly in his familiar trio format, but it is still remarkable what he can do with them. His version of Harold Arlen’s “Rainbow” was exquisite, starting with the bridge, melding it into the familiar melody,  probing into the chordal structure of the piece, then returning to the theme. After an evening of exploring the uncharted recesses of his imagination, “Over The Rainbow,” was a perfect coda. The audience pulled him back for one more bow and a simple “Thank You.” Nothing more was required.

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To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

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