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Bebop Spoken There

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

CD Review: Keith Jarrett – La Fenice

Keith Jarrett – piano.
(Review by Hugh C)
La Fenice continues what now appears to be a series of releases of past concert performances by Keith Jarrett, following the release of A Multitude of Angels in 2016 (also reviewed on BSH).  This is a recording of a solo performance by Jarrett in Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice in 2006. Release of ‘La Fenice’ is timely: The 62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music of the ‘Biennale di Venezia’ has honoured Keith Jarrett with its Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement - the first time that a jazz musician has received this award.


The album consists of two CDs.  The first disc has five tracks, each consecutively numbered from a spontaneously created eight-part suite.  Part I opens proceedings with an exploration of atonality, sounding in places like two kids bashing around on gran’s parlour piano – except that in this case, the piano is a Steinway concert grand.  I admit this says more about my prejudices than Jarrett’s pianism!  The characteristic Jarrett vocalisation is there from the start, some of the exclamations matching the pained facial expression in the black and white photography in the CD insert. 

Part II continues directly, in a similar same vein, audience applause for Part I either excluded from this recording or perhaps there was none. Following Part II, after some hesitancy, full audience applause ensues.  Part III is more melodic with a rhythmic, slightly bluesy feel.  Part IV is a beautiful ballad with a hint of traditional folk melody, or perhaps a soundtrack to a British romantic comedy (judging from the applause the audience really liked this too).  Part V is somewhat disjointed, in an almost boogie-woogie style, but definitely tonal.

The second disc commences with Part VI, a reflective piece with a dreamlike quality, evocative of the French impressionist school at the end of the Romantic period. The sequential progression through Jarrett’s spontaneously composed suite is now interrupted.  Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sun Whose Rays follows, an instantly recognisable tune, but – as is often the case – unplaceable without the sleeve notes.  Part VII, a series of melodic chord progressions, ultimately leads to the conclusion of the suite in Part VIII, a full-on blues which features KJ’s foot tapping out a regular percussive beat.  The traditional My Wild Irish Rose appears to conclude the second set, judging from the calls for MORE! from the audience.  Jarrett’s performance certainly set the audience alight, thankfully, on this occasion, not the theatre itself!  Two encores follow:  Stella by Starlight (Victor Young and Ned Washington) at breakneck speed, then Blossom, a Jarrett composition.

Whether the market needs another Jarrett concert release is a moot point.  This issue certainly has moments of extreme beauty and will appeal to the Jarrett connoisseur.  From the evidence of this recording, it would certainly have been good to be at the live event.  La Fenice has been released on ECM 2601.

Hugh C

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