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Published: 2012/01/10
by Brian Robbins

Keith Jarrett

ECM Records

When we last visited Keith Jarrett via a solo live recording – 2009’s Testament: Paris/London – the legendary pianist shared a brutally honest performance with us. The album, recorded in December of ’08, was a document of Jarrett working his way through the breakup of his 30-year marriage in a very public setting. Knowing the backstory of Jarrett’s personal situation during the period of the Testament recordings made the ache of some of the improvisational pieces almost too real to listen to – but made the joyous reemergence captured in the album’s finale all the more of a victory. It was a gutsy, brilliant performance.

Jarrett’s latest solo release Rio was recorded in Brazil in April of 2011 and finds him in a much better place on an emotional level. Don’t mistake romantic stability for musical complacency, however – Jarrett still plays the piano as if it might be his last time … that hasn’t changed.

Rio is composed of 15 separate pieces ranging in length from the right-to-the-point bluesy boogie of Part XI (3:20) to the 8-minute-and-40-second head-clearing polytonal workout of Part I. (You know that things are already happening when Jarrett lets out one of his trademark lost-in-the-moment moans at the 3:23 mark of the opener.)

The “spontaneous compositions” captured here are as free to roam as Jarrett’s music has ever been, with themes established on the spot to be used as touchstones between wanderings. Part XIV is a sunny-day stroll that fetches on a sudden tip of the top hat. Part VIII was definitely inspired by the concert setting with subtle Latin flavorings added to the piece’s major-keyed majesty. Part XIII is chock full of bittersweet reflection; Part III keeps threatening to break into a smile, but its jazzbo coolness keeps things in check; Part VI is packed with adventure and tension – an odyssey that brings you back safe but winded; and Part XV closes the show on a note of absolute triumph.

All in all, Rio proves that while personal upheaval can sometimes be the fuel for great art, so can security and contentment. It’s wonderful to hear Jarrett playing music like this at this stage in his life.

Ain’t love grand?

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