by Mark Saleski
Some musicians have the ability to transcend their physical talents to put on display their thought processes, a sort of direct conduit between the hands and that mysterious inner pool of music.
Or … in Keith Jarrett’s case, the lack of thought: How we arrive at profound thoughts has a lot to do with what we aren’t thinking beforehand, and I had in mind letting some of the music happen to me without sitting there in deep thought. This reminds me of the Zen concept of ‘watching thoughts form,’ something only those with very, very “quiet minds” can accomplish.
A few minutes into Jarrett’s Radiance and it becomes clear that his idea of “no ideas” has payed off in unexpected ways. The first improvised concert album since 1997′s La Scala (part of an unofficial series stretching all the way back to Solo Concerts, Bremen/Lausanne (1973) and including the titanic Sun Bear Concerts and the reference standard: The Koln Concert), Radiance has Jarrett striking chords and phrases, following them with their “natural” complements. At first, it’s an almost shocking development as there appears to be no underlying motivic structure. There’s also none (well … not none, but much less) of the usual romantic exploration of themes.
Best of all: it works.
Despite the seeming “randomness,” Radiance, after a fashion, coalesces into a warm, shimmering whole. Its romanticism becomes clear as you sense Jarrett’s loving connection to music as he clings to the moment.
After a few passes through, I came down with a severe case of deja vu and tip-of-the-tongue (or is that “ear”?). What aural memory dust had been displaced? Turns out it was an old bookstore that I used to frequent. The usual thing: brick walls, sleeping cat stretched out in the front window, pine shelving stretching all the way to the ceiling. But it was the classical music playing. Solo piano of undetermined heritage. Since I was more fixated on my book search, the music faded in and out of my attention field. So what I experienced musically was discrete bits of sound, sort of connected, sort of not. By the time I made it to the checkout the chunks of music came together in a subliminal way. This is very similar to my ‘digestion’ of Radiance. Given a chance, this music does make beautiful sense.
Keith Jarrett provides a counter-example to the idea that artists fade away as they age. This release ranks right up there as one of the finest of Jarrett’s career.