Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden – Jasmine (2010)

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I don’t think I’ve gone a year lately without at least two reviews on a Keith Jarrett record, and halfway through this one, that “quota” is already met. But this time, it’s not a solo piano record or a trio with Jack deJohnette and Gary Peacock. Rather, it’s a reunion of Jarrett with one of the largest looming figures in acoustic bass.

So much has happened since Jarrett built up his reputation in the 70s with his so-called “American band” and “European band” operating more-or-less simultaneously, that it’s often easy to forget that important phase of his career. The American band included a phenomenal line-up of Jarrett, saxophonist Dewey Redman, Bill Evans’ longtime drummer Paul Motian and the bass player from Ornette Coleman’s classic, revolutionary combo, Charlie Haden. Jasmine isn’t a complete reassembling of that band, just Haden and Jarrett play on it, who hadn’t played together for more than thirty years. But that provides us with a context to dissect how a world class pianist communes with a world-class bassist, and vice versa.

Atypical for Jarrett these days, Jasmine was recorded in the studio (Jarrett’s own small studio, actually), but more typically for him, all of these tunes selected are time-honored covers. In choosing familiar songs, Jarrett once again invites listeners to focus on interpretation of beautiful melodies, and not labor to determine what the melody is.

We’ve often tried to describe the singular beauty of Haden’s bass lines, and I’ll try again here. Haden’s playing is always unfussy, stands out with a down home woody tone and a produces a pulse as natural a human heartbeat. If you ever wondered how Coleman’s groundbreaking Atlantic Records music could come across with emotion in spite of lacking long-held conventions about rhythm and harmonics, hone in on Haden to find much of the answer. When you combine him with a guy like Jarrett who shares his commitment to melody and making every note count, you can understand what Jasmine is all about. As Jarrett states in the liner notes, “Charlie and I are obsessed with beauty. An ecstatic moment in music is worth the lifetime of mastery that goes into it, because it can be shared.”

As this was recorded in a small studio, it sounds small. The absence of reverberation or echo leaves behind an intimate, dry sonic footprint that recalls Jarrett’s wonderful and under appreciated solo covers album The Melody At Night, With You (1999), likewise recorded at his home. But with Haden at his side this time, Jarrett plays with just a little more vitality.

“For All We Know” reveals the approach for the entire program: Jarrett plays the song with little or no deviation from the composed melody, Haden follows along playing only the necessary notes and no more, and eventually gets his solo turn. Jarrett, on the other hand, comps with his left hand and often “sings”—that is, the plays vocal parts—with his right. “No Moon At All” is an exception, as he plays opposing melodies with each hand, one of his reserved showings of his virtuosity. Another highlight is the mid-tempo swing of “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life,” reminiscent of the romantic allure of Bill Evans’ inviting piano work. Haden’s solo on this number is clean, tonally precise and meanders logically between registers.

Some of the best known standards, like “Body And Soul,” don’t benefit quite as well from the “straight” treatment, because the familiarity is so strong it sometimes threatens to obscure the flawless and nuanced execution. But the masterful execution in bringing out the timeless harmonies with only two musicians is the point of this exercise.

From that vantage point alone, Jasmine was a reunion that needed to happen.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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