Friday, July 31, 2015

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette: Inside Out

This trio of master musicians has been playing together so long and with such amazing telepathy through a long series of recordings of standards that have received much acclaim and popularity.  Not so common among their work are totally improvised performances, which is interesting given that they were all young lions in the 1960s when so-called "free jazz" was ascendant.

In the case of Peacock, he was at the apex of that wild era through his work with Albert Ayler on such seminal recordings as Spiritual Unity.  DeJohnette may best be remembered for his youthful exuberance (and proficiency) with Miles Davis in the very late 60s and early 70s--part of this time working in that band with Jarrett.  The leader came up as an astounding prodigy with Charles Lloyd before striking out on his own (excepting his short stint playing electric keyboards for Davis.)

As mature musicians knowing how to use their technical virtuosity in more subtle ways, the trio has justly become famed for their interpretation of pop standards.  With Inside Out, however, which was recorded in London in late July 2000, there was a total reliance on improvisation.  But, instead of speed, dexterity, and power, the music here is filled with Jarrett's lighter touch, Peacock's uncanny way of anchoring the band with his steady pulse, and DeJohnette's understated but complete use of his kit.

There is no screaming, pounding and displays of dazzling technique.  What is present is a trio that has learned over years to listen to each other and then respond in a manner that is inventive, creative, spontaneous, yet still harmonically rich, tonally centered, and able to swing and employ melody while remaining "free."

Well, there is one fantastic exception: an encore rendition of "When I Fall in Love" that is just exquisite.  Performed with great tenderness, aplomb and feeling, this piece is an excellent way to conclude the recording.

It is also notable that this is one of many recordings where the three musicians are named singly as the artists, rather than as the Keith Jarrett Trio.  This seems to be a recognition of equity on Jarrett's part.  He is the bigger name and the record was issued by his label, ECM, but this is a shining example of true group synchronicity.  The trio issued another recording, a double disc set, of live fully improvised pieces in the excellent Always Let Me Go, as well.

Jarrett's liners are very clear: the reason for the title was to take the process of making music and turning it "inside out."  This was done when the pianist suggested to his cohorts that, if their sound check renditions of existing material did not measure up, then they would go completely improvised.  So, the two nights recorded in London turned out to be just that.

Being "attentive" and "in tune" with each other, Jarrett went on, were even more imperative than before and he takes a quick dig at Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns (whose television series on jazz had just been issued) over what constitutes "free" playing--and it is true that Marsalis, Burns and company gave short shrift to most "free jazz".  Yet, there is plenty of harmony, melody and structure in the improvisation, so it might be seen as a more mature form of free playing.

But, as Jarrett concludes, there is a great deal of blues feeling expressed on this album and he wrote that "sometimes we live the blues even when we're free of the blues."  It might be free, but it's not absent of accessibility, even within a totally improvised format.  Inside Out is a departure from the usual body of work of this great trio, but their approach to working in synthesis is fundamentally unchanged, which makes this album so stellar.

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