The Rabbit has long complained that Keith Jarrett’s standards trio, fine as it is, limited the pianist. Maybe that ‘s because the Rabbit was one of those “hippies,” as one reviewer described his audience, who found salvation in Jarrett’s early solo work, beginning in 1971 with Facing You and continuing through Solo Concerts and The Koln Concert, albums we played again and again to hear the sheer weight of Jarrett’s wide-ranging improvisational creativity. The size of the massive Sun Bear Concerts (six CDs) left us a bit cold, as if ego had replaced accomplishment, something suggested back in ’73’s three- LP Solo Concerts with the inclusion of endless European applause that seemed to eat up more vinyl than the music. While the trio work seemed, after a few releases, all of a sort, I always found something to like, if not love. His solo work was another matter, as if the connection he was able to make with his trio mates was turned inward to connect with himself. When Radiance was released in 2002, Jarrett, having grappled successfully with health problems, again found a way to go beyond.
Released last fall, Testament may be Jarrett’s most expansive solo package, covering the full range of his styles and approaches without over-indulgence. The three-CD set, holds two full concerts recorded within days of each other at the end of 2008, one at Paris’s Salle Pleyel, the other at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Jarrett explores free forms and dissonant counterpoints, grand harmonic themes and rollicking, gospel-influenced anthems. He swings and sails, even when creating Rachmaninovian lushness. Ranging across the entire keyboard for full effect, his play can be deep and dense one moment, light and ethereal the next. The pieces tend to be shorter than in his previous solo work and each seems to find context in the larger program. Numbered in Roman numerals, neither concert is so long or self-absorbed that you’ll be buried in its weight (as I was by Sun Bear).
The joys of solo Jarrett come of evolution. His ability to spontaneously create themes and then grace them with variation makes us focus on every note. Not only do lines evolve but rhythms as well. His phrases, especially in the more free form pieces, are never cut-and-dry but meander seamlessly, usually towards unexpected conclusions. This is something missing from his trio play and is a good part of what makes the pianist so unique. His ability to climb his way to some precarious perch and then lower himself out of it is truly amazing. He is a master of conflict and resolution.
It’s hard to find anything here to criticize. Only the last cut from the London concert “Part XII,” fails to strike its rhythm, turning from a warm, major -key theme into a stomp and shout gospel-like close. If Jarrett’s conviction doesn’t exactly make believers of us, at least he won the audience. Their applause at the tune’s conclusion, probably the concert’s conclusion as well, goes on and on.–Cabbage Rabbit