Destined to be one of the gems of Jarrett’s vast discography.
John Eyles 2012
Sleeper is well titled. This live double album was recorded in Tokyo in April 1979, and lay unissued in the vaults for over three decades before being dusted off for this release. Although credited (on the spine, at least) to pianist Keith Jarrett alone, it features his "European Quartet" with Scandinavians Jan Garbarek on tenor and soprano saxophones plus flute, Palle Danielsson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums.
That foursome first came together in 1974 to record the album Belonging. Other demands on Jarrett’s time – notably, his "American Quartet" – meant they played together infrequently, making each occasion special.
Although much admired and hugely influential, the quartet only recorded one more studio album, 1977’s My Song. The month after recording Sleeper, they played their final gig together, at the Village Vanguard in New York, captured on the live double album Nude Ants.
A live single album by the group, Personal Mountains, also recorded in Tokyo in April 1979, was released in 1989. There is no overlap between that album and this release. Six of the seven compositions on Sleeper are already available on those other live albums, but the versions here trump those. Featuring an entire hour-and-three-quarters concert – two sets plus an encore – Sleeper must now be considered the first-choice live album by this quartet.
The pairing of Jarrett’s piano with Garbarek’s reeds is an inspired one. They complement each other perfectly, their exchanges bursting with infectious energy and free-flowing invention. Unlike some Jarrett albums, Sleeper does not prominently feature the vocal moaning and grunting from the pianist that can alienate some; instead, it contains sounds of exuberance and enthusiasm, sentiments sure to be echoed by many listeners.
All of the compositions are by Jarrett. They cover a broad range of moods and styles, from the driving groove of Personal Mountains through the poignant melody of So Tender to the freeform looseness of Oasis. Throughout, whatever the style, Danielsson and Christensen are fully integrated into the quartet, reliably underpinning the music.
The end result is a richly varied album that seems destined to be one of the gems of Jarrett’s vast discography.