Vaunted jazz trio makes the old seem new again
Over the past quarter century, the trio of pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette has become the jazz trio against which all others are measured. Playing before 1,950 people Sunday night at Symphony Hall, the group took a wide-ranging set of nine standards, plus one of Jarrett's own tunes, and upended them, turning them into entirely new pieces of music.
This is what Jarrett's trio does and has done so well for 25 years. Jarrett usually introduces the theme by himself and then begins to reorganize its parts. Peacock and DeJohnette jump in, and before we realize it the tune has evolved so far and so fast that the original melody is buried beneath the extemporaneous exchanges. A three-minute song like "I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life" became a glorious, 12-minute improvisation. Jarrett began adjusting the melody of "Someday My Prince Will Come" from the first bars - a note here, two notes there - as if to make the point: You've heard this song a thousand times, but you've never heard this version.
Watching Jarrett in concert is a visual experience as much as an aural one. As his fingers extracted crystalline clusters of notes from the keys, he contorted his body, shook his head, grimaced, moaned, groaned, lifted himself from the bench, and sat back down. When he played a phrase that seemed to please himself, he let out a "wahhhhhh" or an "ohhhhhh," as he did multiple times during "When I Fall in Love," a staple of his that he infused with more blues than normal. Either he gets lost in the music like no one else or this has become part of the shtick that he delivers because his audience has come to expect it.
Another thing we've come to expect is that now and again his famously abrasive personality will reveal itself. He seemed friendly enough as the concert began, perhaps because the trio received a standing ovation for merely arriving onstage. "I just want to say to all of you who have followed us so far: Thank you so much," he announced. But despite the flawless, beautiful performance these three men gave us, Jarrett left some in the crowd confounded and a bit annoyed.
See, Jarrett has a thing about photography - he doesn't permit it, even when he's taking a bow. A guy in the front row tried to get a picture before the second encore, and afterward Jarrett admonished him. "I am not my complexion," he said cryptically and walked offstage. Apparently he objected to being reduced to a photo. If he had been paying attention to how much the crowd loved him Sunday night, he would have realized that could never be the case.
Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.