Keith Jarrett

Album Reviews:

1994: At the Dear Head Inn (Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian) [1992]

Compilation Reviews:

2006: The Impulse! Story [1973–1976]

At the Dear Head Inn

Rating: 6.1/10
Rated as
: Album / Live
Compilation Status
: for Fans of Artist
Released: 1994
Recorded: 1992
Specific Genre: Cool Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
: Bebop
Label: ECM

1. Solar 2. Basin Street Blues 3. Chandra 4. You Don’t Know What Love Is 5. You and the Night and the Music 6. Bye Bye Blackbird 7. It’s Easy to Remember

Candle-lit versions of subdued piano trio jazz well within your expectations

This formation (Jarrett, Peacock and Motian) is a kind of reunion of Jarrett’s „American Quartet“ without Redman, as Motian (who sits in for DeJohnette) was last heard on a Jarrett-record on Bop-Be (recorded 1976). That title might in turn be a hint of the sound of this record: It’s a return to the sligthly more traditionally oriented approach some of Jarrett’s late 1970s output would feature. The trio plays subtly swinging, elegant standards, alternating between pensive cool jazz and livelier bebop. Motian actually is a deciding factor of the sound, with his impeccably light, metallic work on the cymbals.

The musical focus is not on sharp contrasts or battling solos, on the contrary: this is mostly about absolute balance in volume and prominence of each instrument. They play – of course – the standards, and besides a very fine and winding rendition of „You Don’t Know What Love Is“ nothing truly stands out – it starts out in unspectacular fashion with the familiar late-night jazz featuring Jarrett’s soft touch and an unobtrusive bass solo, but around the 5:30-mark, Jarrett suddenly insists on a bright, wavering chord and the track dives into the kind of minor key cluster improvisation Jarrett is known for even to people who think Köln is the capital of jazz – he just doesn’t let up for five minutes and fortunately transforms the standard into a mesmerizing, lyrical whirlpool of trio jazz. Unfortunately, such detours are the exception here: Jarrett often finds himself fighting not to put too much of his musical idiosyncrasies into the chosen standards, and these low-key, candle-lit versions of subdued piano trio jazz amount to a good gig which stays well within your expectations.

The Impulse! Story

Rating: 3.7/10
Rated as
: Anthology
Compilation Status
: Newbie Baiting
Released: 2006
Recorded: 1973–1976
Specific Genre: ECM Style Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
: Avant-Garde Jazz, Post-Bop, Bebop, Piano Jazz
Label: Impulse!

1 De Drums 2 The Rich (and the Poor) 3 Blue Streak 4 Treasure Island 5 Introduction and Yaqui Indian Folk Song 6 Victoria 7 Everything that Lives Laments 8 Konya 9 Bop-Be 10 Mushi Mushi 11 Silence

Good music, very questionable reason of existence as a compilation

Problems first: This compilation is called „The Impulse Story“, so the title suggests a sort of narrative for Jarrett’s American Quartet recordings for that label (1973–1976) – or it should, anyway. More complete compilations and box sets of Jarrett’s Impulse output had been issued before this (occupying both in name and completeness the „Impulse Years“ tag), and the question arises to what end there has to be a single disc compilation of that period. A plot? Sure. But there is no plot here, so let’s take a look.

Academically (and moronically) reconstructing the track choice, you‘ll be left with the knowledge that seven of the eleven tracks (make that ten actually – „Victoria“ wasn‘t issued on Jarrett‘s original Impulse albums – but it was first released on The Impulse Years: 1973–1974, so there is no point to view it as the selling point here) stem from just two of the eight albums while three albums aren’t represented at all. You‘ll also notice that the chronology hasn’t been touched (leading to the fact that the four tracks of Treasure Island come in a row). And you‘ll notice that the track choice as well as the liner notes were done by jazz expert Ashley Kahn. I was hoping to find an answer to the choices he made in his liner notes, and he only hints at it by mentioning that the last four albums for Impulse stem from roughly the same sessions Jarrett did in 1975/76. As there is no other information directly relating to the track choice, we’re left with a bunch of questions (why is it called story? Why such a stress on Treasure Island? Why a single disc compilation about a guy whose work has been documented excellently and comprehensively, and whose specialty were 20-minute-suites?), we‘re left to construct a) the scheme that this was called story to imply a personal and artistical ‚development‘ of Jarrett‘s Impulse years and b) the suspicion that the last four albums didn’t contribute so well to represent that arc (as they were part of temporarily close sessions as opposed to long evolution processes). Suspicion also arises this is a cash-in to lure in newbies. Who needs this?

Call me picky, but I simply expect better from the normally unerring Impulse!-label.

Economics aside, let’s take a look at the material. Like the albums it’s taken from, it is quite alright to excellent, a particular stand-out is the opener „De Drums“, with its swinging, swirling, breezy and moving pattern, akin to cape jazz, followed by some shorter tunes that all share the same airy and weightless atmosphere – an overall summer feeling permeates this. Things get a bit edgier in the last third, when the group shifted its sound away from the acoustic improvs from the beginning, and went for a less free-flowing, harder bopping approach once again (very sneaky by calling that last album Bop-Be). I prefer to listen to the first half, excellent for mornings and sunny afternoons, very laid-back music. Maybe that was the point, to lounge-ify Jarrett‘s Impulse output, possibly cross-financed by Starbucks. A thin plot: Good music, very questionable reason of existence as a compilation. As I said, I can’t imagine anyone seriously interested in this who wouldn’t want the albums in the first place.

1: Fort Yawuh (1973)
2–5: Treasure Island (1974)
6: from the Backhand (1975) sessions, but first released on The Impulse Years: 1973–1974 (1997)
7: Mysteries (1976)
8: Byablue (1977)
9–11: Bop-Be (1977)