Keith Jarrett Standards Trio: 30 Years, Better than Ever

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Keith Jarrett

I’ve been following Keith Jarrett even before his fateful appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in Charles Lloyd‘s famous performance in 1967. “Forest Flower, Sunrise” and “Forest Flower, Sunset” had crowds galvanized, especially Keith’s solos. Charles Lloyd, veteran jazz statesman and high priest, still calls him, “The Kid”.

When I was still in my teens, I saw Jarrett perform with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1966 at the opening of the Fox Hills Mall here in LA, recently re-christened as the upscale Westfield Culver City. He was great then too.

Jarrett grew up in the Poconos, Pennsylvania and legend has it that he was a fan of John Coates, Jr. who was a resident piano player there.

The new album, Somewhere

The Standards Trio started in 1983 and celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new album, Somewhere (a song from the Bernstein/Sondheim songbook). The trio consists of pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It is astounding that they have been together so long. Jazz groups change constantly; pop bands are even more ephemeral and short-lived. This new live album comes from a Lucerne, Switzerland performance in July, 2009.

The first cut is typical. You get a hefty dollop of dissonance in “Deep Space” the first cut, which then elides seamlessly into Miles Davis’ classic “Solar”. At first, you think it’s all impossible. Then, Keith brings it off. It is pure genius. Even though it might seem like he’s going way out into the ionosphere in this standard, he always knows exactly where he is in the chord changes, something that amazes both fans and musicians alike.

standards trio
The Standards Trio

By now, the trio shares an unrivaled musical telepathy and an adoring fan base wherever they perform in the world. I can’t think of any jazz group that gets an ovation every time it comes out on stage. They recently performed at UCLA Royce Hall on 9/28. There are the anecdotes about Jarrett’s testiness with audience coughs and cell phones and he even a tirade in Italy a few years back. I would add here that Keith’s elliptical writings are tougher to comprehend than Foucault and Derrida. And the grunts and growns. Yet, fans tolerate and forgive all this. Jarrett is such an iconic artist that the respect he gets from audiences overrides such diva-like behavior. What’s important is the music he produces.

I interviewed a testy and unappreciative Jarrett two decades ago at KCRW. I would love to dismiss him as an egomaniac, but I can’t. He is just too exceptional a musician. And his trio is one of the best ever in the jazz arena.

Here is the trio in action:

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