Jazz review: Keith Jarrett at Walt Disney Concert Hall
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Not unlike the old joke about going to watch a fight and seeing a hockey game break out, what happens when you go to a Keith Jarrett show and a comfortable, even relaxed concert experience breaks out?
This isn’t to disparage Jarrett’s music on Tuesday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was another of his signature, engrossing evenings of solo, in-the-moment creation that lie somewhere between mind-scrambling instrumental skill and the harnessing of pure magic. Instead this is a byproduct of Jarrett’s often prickly performing persona, an unfortunate elephant in the room during his concerts, which in the past have found the mercurial pianist storming off stage at the sound of coughing or sternly scolding amateur photographers in the audience for snapping his picture, as he did during a 2010 show at Disney Hall.
And whether the result of a crowd fully aware and respectful of Jarrett’s particular rules (a wave of preemptive coughing crested through the room and fell to laughter before the pianist even walked onstage) or a mellowing of Jarrett’s usual sensitivities, Tuesday’s concert bore far less of the best-behavior audience tension that can shade Jarrett’s appearances and instead allowed even more room for the music to be the focal point.
And what a display of music it was. As shown on last year’s live double-CD ‘Rio,’ Jarrett’s rabbit-out-of-the-hat gifts for improvisation are still razor sharp, pulling from an unfathomable musical vocabulary to create something unlike anybody else. Reaching inside his piano to tap out an off-kilter, free rhythm along its wooden skeleton and strings, Jarrett began the show with what felt like a gently dissonant greeting to his instrument. Slowly he gathered the piece into a tumble of notes up and down his keyboard, sneaking up on what coalesced into a quiet, moonlit melody. An early piece captured a sort of last-call blend of hope and despair that wouldn’t seem out of place under an early Tom Waits ballad too romantic for words, while others coursed through churning, anthemic variations on New Orleans-bred blues spiked by lightning-quick flourishes of notes. Flashes of melodies hummable enough to be long-lost standards also fluttered through Jarrett’s mix, along with nocturnal interludes of understated, ‘Moonlight Sonata'-like atmosphere, forming a sort of improvised survey of Western music.
Throughout the night Jarrett seemed in good spirits, taking an audience survey to compare their knowledge of Kenny G and Albert Ayler at one point, playfully pretending to slam his keyboard shut another after a brief coughing fit burst out behind the stage. ‘It’s OK,’ he said reassuringly. ‘As long as the coughs aren’t hiding a photograph.’
But not even a few baffling attempts to tempt fate by some in the crowd with their camera flashes during a series of encores could spoil Jarrett’s mood, which seemed more forgiving and self-effacing than expected. ‘I’m getting my sense of humor back somewhat,’ Jarrett admitted. Improvisation paired with a sense of humor -- who would’ve thought?
-- Chris Barton