Saturday, August 03, 2013

CD Review: Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette - Somewhere

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette

This album, and pianist Keith Jarrett in particular, have been a hot topic of discussion over the past few weeks. Matthew Shipp sounded off on this album in what was actually a pretty fair and even-handed assessment of it. That's not to say he liked it, but he was well-spoken on it. At least one person on Facebook had to comment, "Matthew Shipp is just jealous." That's about as asinine as saying... well, I have a metaphor but I don't want to start a different kind of debate here. Anyhow, if you want to know what Shipp said, it's right here. Read it because it's pretty articulate and reveals some things about himself that are surprising.

Jarrett also generated some head shaking himself with his return to the Umbria Jazz Festival, from which he was banned a few years ago, after a crabby outburst. That's right here.

On top of all that, Somewhere, the reason for this entry, got a Five-star review in Downbeat. (Jarrett's also on the cover of the newest issue.) That's right - five stars. Instant classic. A Love Supreme. The only other person who's gotten five-star reviews from them, and is still alive to read them, is Michael Formanek. I haven't read the review yet, because one of my journalism teachers suggested a long time ago that you never read a review of something that you're about to review yourself. (My good intentions cause me to miss a lot of critiques that way.)

So anyhow, about the album...

It's not bad.

Seriously,  playing nothing but standards - two from West Side Story, no less - can come off like a tired, phoned-in concept for an album but these three musicians (whose rapport goes back three decades) bring a spark to the program. Even when they space out and play two chords for more than 10 minutes, a level of energy keeps it moving.

Sure, Jarrett's playing can get sort of spacey, meaning tangentially, content to just let sounds ring out. "Stars Fell on Alabama" moves along laguidly, with a lot of open space in it theme. But he's not squeezing the life out of the words like an overwrought vocalist. He's letting them breathe. Jack DeJohnette's brush work and cymbal rolls help to open it up with their accents. (For better or worse, there's Jarrett's trademark growling acting as another intrusive punctuation while really comes out in a whiny way during the solid swing of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." And to think, he's distracted by flashbulbs or crowd noise.) Gary Peacock plays a laidback yet grooving solo in "Stars," which is fine follow-up to the brisk one he plays in Miles Davis' "Solar." After another bass solo in "Devil," Jarrett trades fours with DeJohnette, who has really been kicking him forward throughout the tune.

"Somewhere" can come across as a rather sappy song, aside from the version Tom Waits recorded on Blue Valentine where his gruffness lent new depth to the hopeful message of the song. Not until Vijay Iyer recorded it a few years ago did the mush start falling away. Now, Jarrett manages to keep the song's sensitivity intact while keeping the mood of the trio's arrangement on the gentle side. After playing the tune for about five minutes, Jarrett locks into a two-chord vamp - and stays there for about another 14 minutes. Titled "Anywhere," it finds the group exploring every way they can sustain the energy over such a simple structure and for at least 10 of those minutes, it works. (By that point, it's easy to get restless but you figure, you've come this far, why not keep going.) This is what's meant by a musical journey, Jarrett holding down the fort, DeJohnette adding color to it, with Peacock adding some trimming. This isn't showboating riffing, played just to get an audience's reaction to technical tricks. This is about getting lost in the moment and seeing what happens.

So this writer wouldn't give the whole album five stars, but I still had a good time listening.

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