Keith Jarrett - A Multitude Of Angels
(ECM 2500-03. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
A new four disc set of solo piano from Keith Jarrett is an exciting prospect. Recorded by Jarrett over four concerts in Italy in 1996 without using another engineer or producer, he writes in the sleeve notes that he believes these recordings represent the pinnacle of his solo career.
Each disc contains every note played from one concert: two sets each, together with encores where played, from Modena, Ferrara, Torino and Genova. Each set was thirty minutes or so of wholly improvised music, named on each disc as Part l and Part ll; the encores were either improvised (Encore) or standards - Danny Boy in Modena and Over The Rainbow in Genova. Torino didn't get an encore, Genova got two. There is nearly five hours of music spread across the four discs.
It is music of great intensity: there is emotion, passion, anger and humour within each set. Some sequences are strongly rhythmic, others delicate. There are hints of other musicians at times: I convinced myself I could hear repeated references to Thelonious Monk and a nod or two to Charles Mingus, as well as sections that reminded me of Sketches Of Spain. Jarrett's improvisations have a fair dose of the blues and spirituals, too.
The two sets in each disc can differ greatly, showing different aspects of Jarrett. Within each set, the mood may be mercurial, changing suddenly, though mostly there is a gradual accretion as Jarrett subtly builds the improvisation.
The music is not flawless. At times, Jarrett's nasal harmonising with the piano can sound like a whining toddler mocking the music. I found it particular distracting during Part l from Ferrara. But this is just quibbling: that set was probably my favourite from the four discs, full of imagination and rhythm.
There is of course a lot of music across the four CDs. If you're a fan of Jarrett's music, this collection is probably indispensable: it is a remarkable series of improvisations. If you're not familiar with Jarrett's solo work, this might not be the place to start - he has a large body of recordings available (the Köln Concert is many people's entry point). But if solo piano improvisation is your thing, A Multitude Of Angels contains some beautiful, emotional and intense music.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.