By Fernando Gonzalez
Keith Jarrett / Charlie Haden
Back in early 2007, pianist Keith Jarrett agreed to participate in a documentary film about old friend Charlie Haden. The reunion led to some unexpected, informal duet playing (they hadn’t played together in more than 30 years), and the results moved Jarrett to invite Haden back for four days of home recording.
The result is Jasmine (ECM), an intimate, thoughtful, and richly detailed duet recording. Heard as a whole, these eight love songs play as an intriguing bookend to The Melody At Night With You, another Jarrett home recording released in 1999.
On both, the approach is conversational. The Melody … was a solo record, but in Jasmine the conversation becomes almost literal, given the empathy between Jarrett and Haden. The readings are rather straight forward, although — unlike The Melody…— Jasmine features extended soloing. Its points are made with details, nuance, and subtle variations.
Also, intriguingly, The Melody …, a comeback effort of sorts after a bout with chronic fatigue, was dedicated to his then wife, Rose Anne, “Who heard the music, then gave it back to me.”
Then in 2008, by Jarrett’s own account on his notes for last year’s Testament, Rose Anne left him. Jasmine, recorded a few months before her departure, already sounds like a melancholy goodbye. (Jarrett pointed out that it was the third time in four years she’d left him.) The material might be love songs, but rather than romance, or an extended sigh, the result suggests sober meditations on the subject. As it happens, the one track in common between The Night … and Jasmine is Jerome Kern’s “Don’t Ever Leave Me.”
Haden, a partner of Jarrett in the ‘70s in what came to be known as his America quartet, is a solid companion here. His style offers both a sturdy foundation and open space. Be it on purpose or just as a result of their work and talent, great instrumentalists make it sound easy. Haden doesn’t. He plays bass, and if any lifting is involved, it’s heavy, he seems to say. There is labor involved. And regardless the setting, this is also part of his contribution to the music, to its drama and power. Here, in a duet with a probing, high flying pianist, Haden is the anchor, the broad-shouldered backer, offering reassurances and muscle. Check his playing in “Body and Soul.” Without ever calling attention to himself, he paces and shades the whole performance, laying down markers as Jarrett plays the melody, subtly speeding up the pace and finally going into a walk that both follows and nudges Jarrett along. We can all let go, the foundation is covered.
Jarrett offers in Jasmine a thoughtful, restrained lyricism. In his work with his Standards trio, the material feels incidental, a starting point, a floor plan. The actual piece of art is the interaction between the musicians and the act of improvising. In Jasmine, the subject counts.
Consider his almost somber playing on Gordon Jenkins’s “Goodbye,” the extended ruminations on “For All We Know,” or the nuances in the closing “Don’t Ever Leave Me.”
And it’s done with the kind of profound simplicity that takes a lifetime of work to produce.