The Standards Trio celebrate 20 years together with a double set of improvisations...
Peter Marsh 2002
While Keith Jarrett's recent :rarum compilation for ECM served as a timely reminder of just how eclectic and brilliant he can be, it highlighted the fact that the Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette (his main vehicle for the last 20 years) has ploughed a straighter, if not narrower path.
Despite the fact that much of the music produced was brilliant, it became increasingly difficult to escape the feeling that Jarrett was surrounding the trio with a lot of historical baggage, almost setting them up as a kind of platonic ideal of the piano trio, to be preserved in aspic at the Smithsonian Institute (that's not a literal suggestion, before anyone suggests Damien Hirst for the job).
That all changed with Inside Out, a record which contained a fair amount of completely improvised material. Jarrett promised that there would be more to follow and here it is; two nights in Tokyo (almost home turf for the pianist) result in two hours of music over a double CD. That these three great musicians can make the leap into total improvisation shouldn't be any surprise, and the fact that they do do brilliantly shouldn't be either, but nevertheless Always Let Me Go may leave you breathless.
Many of the pieces are long; the opening "Hearts in Space" clocks in at nearly 40 minutes. Jarrett has always expressed an affinity with structuring longform improvisations, as his solo concerts testify, but while in that setting he can settle into comfortable, almost predictable routines, the trio do anything but that. This is classic give and take stuff, with each musician allowed acres of space as they move from densely argued abstraction to warm groove playing to hushed introspection. Jarrett has made comparisons with Webern in the playing here, and it's not difficult to imagine some enterprising soul with too much time on their hands scoring some of the more abstract moments for a string quartet.
Jarrett's playing is unsurprisingly brilliant, with his ability to conjure memorable melodic line and sumptuous chording out of thin air intact, coupled with a predilection for knotty, tumbling note clusters composed of independent lines. The solo "The River" is a classic example of the pianist's gift for reflective instant composition, while on the closing "Relay" his joyful, folkish lines (reminiscent of Ornette Coleman at his catchiest) burst with elan.
Freed from their more conventional rhythm section duties (though describing them as such does seem to fall a bit short of the mark) Peacock and DeJohnette shine; the bassist is on luminous form, each note articulated with power and grace. His expressive, languid solos, razor sharp time and almost telepathic rapport with Jarrett recall the legendary Bill Evans/Scott LaFaro partnership. DeJohnette just gets better and better; very few jazz drummers posess both his range of experience and undoubted chops. 20 years together has paid off, and how; it may have taken them 2 hours to make it, but there's three lifetimes worth of playing (and listening) in this little package.Enjoy.
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