Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Review: Keith Jarrett, NCH, Dublin

One man and a grand piano at large on Earlsfort Terrace

Hey, put that camera down! Keith Jarrett at work. Photo: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Wed, Nov 18, 2015, 09:45


You think of the thousands of times Keith Jarrett has sat at the piano, paused for a moment with his fingers over the keys and then started to improvise. Every time is different, every route is different, every piece is a different once-in-a-lifetime moment. Once played, once experienced, never repeated.

At 70 years of age, Jarrett is still ambling onto stages and making audiences wow with what he produces. During last night’s performance at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, an event where Jarrett was gabby in the extreme by his own exacting standards when it comes to concert hall etiquette, he tells a yarn about someone leaving one of his shows wondering where those chords come from. They come from here, says Jarrett pointing to the grand piano onstage. It’s all in there, though it’s worth noting the importance of the instinct and experience within his own head when it comes to coaxing those sounds from the instrument.

During another of those chatty interludes, he muses about the possibilities which might be available if the piano had an extra set of keys but that, he knows, is probably for someone else to explore. He’ll make do with what he has and what he does with what’s available to him is often extraordinary. There are pieces which swing with elan and a jagged sort of funk and pieces which are so dramatic, slow-burning and evocative that you can make out the outline of entire universes in the spaces between the notes.

When he swings high with his improvisations, the abundance of colour and vigour to the piece has the ability to transform the blues or boogie-woogie behind the notes. When he opts for the bittersweet and romantic flavours, the tones and timbres turn broody and contemplative, as if Jarrett himself is realising the good times are running out and there are only so many more times when this experience, a room full of people paying rapt attention to the precisions of a master musician, will occur. On these occasions, he doesn’t rise from the piano stool to take note of dimensions and surroundings or make off-the-cuff comments which the on-stage microphones may or may not pick up and the audience will always laugh at. On these occasions, he lets the music sketch the lines under and around what he has to say. In one of those moments, about 20 or 25 minutes into the concert, the work is captivating in the extreme, a piece which twinkles and sparkles with harmonic beauty without the musician exaggerating or over-egging its inherent, wondrous appeal.

As the programme progresses, you note that you’re listening with deeper intent. Any initial end-of-the-working-day tiredness or distraction about undone tasks disappears and you’re pulled closer to the music. Anyone who has listened over the years to Jarrett’s work created in the moment like “The Köln Concert” knows that deep listening rewards you in unexpected ways every time out. Jarrett also talks about the importance of listening tonight – he talked a heck of a lot – especially in terms of musicians and other music. The more you listen, he suggests, the more you will realise the power of what you hear.

And the more you listen tonight, the more you can make out fleeting shadows and flickers of familiar standards in Jarrett’s repertoire. There are glints of “Summertime” rolled and spooned into some of the pieces, while the traces of “Danny Boy” which occasionally pop up on the distant horizon appear fully-formed in the encore in the shape of a Jarrett-esque slow and low treatment.

Before that final bow, he growls at some eejit in the audience who has decided to take a photo of the musician, meaning that the audience can cross another line off their Jarrett bingocard. It’s the only time tonight when there’s any sort of tension in the air and both act and audience seem keen to quickly put that particular belligerent genie back in the bottle. A pity because it would have been interesting to hear what a little grit and unease would have brought to the proceedings, how much light that crack would have allowed in. A night when a maestro went to work showing us every angle of his skillset and provided several moments along the way which were truly sublime.