Keith Jarrett/ Jan Garbarek/ Palle Danielsson/ Jon Christensen – Sleeper (2012)

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With such a focus here on Keith Jarrett’s sublime Standards trio that has been going on for thirty years, now, along with some monumental solo piano records of the 1970s, it can almost be forgiven if we had overlooked Jarrett’s American Quartet of the same time frame. Or, more so, the concurrently running European Quartet. The latter quartet had gotten together less frequently — Jarrett referred to it as “less of an ensemble and more of a ‘special event’ — and during their 1974-1979 existence, only three albums were put out: Belonging(1974), My Song (1977), and Nude Ants (1979). Personal Mountains was finally released ten years after its 1979 recording, and another concert from that same Japan tour, is finally seeing the light of day next week. This one is titled, Sleeper.

Jarrett’s get-togethers with Jan Garbarek (saxophones, flute, percussion), Palle Danielsson (double bass) and Jon Christensen (drums, percussion) were very much the special moments he described them as. Jarrett wrote all the material for this combo, but wrote differently than for his Dewey Redman/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian band. Clearly wanting for the personalities of his Scandinavian colleagues to be prominent in this particular quartet, the leader wrote compositions with European folk melodies, but also with the gospel and funk that Jarrett himself became widely known for, especially during those improvisational solo piano concerts.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Did Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” rip off a 1974 song that Keith Jarrett had recorded with the European Quartet? You be the judge!]

Sleeper is open for charges of redundancy because, like Personal Mountains, it was recorded in Tokyo in April of 1979, and includes the same four songs found on Mountains. Additional songs contained in Nude Ants are performed here as well. But given the relatively infrequent and short discography of this band that had reached such a high level of rapport by the time of this final tour, such newly-uncovered recordings should be a real treat for any Jarrett or Garbarek fan. The band is clearly playing with conviction, but also a relaxed confidence you only attain from a high level of trust and from knowing each other so well.

It often sounds like the quartet, in its unity of expression, acts as an extension of Jarrett’s famous solo ruminations; certainly, songs such as “Personal Mountains” has that same flow. Here, the Danielsson/Christensen rhythm section is so active and light footed. On “Innocence,” Jarrett seems to wander in a wilderness of a classically inspired brooding until the sunshine emerges from the clouds about six minutes in, and Garbarek locks in with Jarrett to perform the bright, folk-like melody. Jarrett’s fluid bop lines over Christensen’s familiar cymbal showers make “So Tender” percolate so nicely.

“Oasis” is at first a total break from jazz as Garbarek’s flute over African percussion creates an exotic music moment, before sliding into a moody, almost avant-garde mode, but the floating notes from Garbarek’s (soprano) saxophone, as is often the case, keeps things tethered to the melody. A mid-tempo funk strut is the foundation for “Chant Of The Soil,” which Danielsson skillfully exploits, and later offers up a solo that’s not showy but is very attuned to the groove. Introspective and lyrical bass lines kick off the delicate ballad “Prism,” and the set closes on an encore performance of the upbeat “New Dance,” a song where Christensen’s rhythmic inventions seem to inspire Jarrett, while Garbarek’s perfect interplay with the pianist exudes joyfulness.

“Perfect” is also the way the mixing job done by ECM founder Manfred Eicher, along with Jan Erik Kongshaug. It’s quite rare when Eicher holds anything in the vault for so long, making me wonder if it was simply overlooked. It’s also possible that he was saving it for a time when perhaps people needed a reminder of what a “special event” Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet really was. With the benefit of thirty-three years hindsight, it sounds, if anything, even more special now than it did then.

Sleeper goes on sale August 7, 2012 by ECM Records.


Here’s a look back at our past thoughts on other classic 1970s ECM recordings. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

Jan Garbarek – Dansere Box Set: Three of Garbarek’s seminal early records with pianist Bobo Stenson that formed the foundation for modern Scandinavian jazz and that classic, unmistakable “ECM Sound.” Also includes important contributions from other ECM Records mainstays Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen.

Terje Rypdal – Odyssey: In Studio and In Concert (1975, 2012 reissue): Combines into one set the complete recordings of compositions by Rypdal for his first working band, Odyssey. This is an essential chronicle of a turning point in the career of one of the Europe’s most idiosyncratic and creative guitarists.

Eberhard Weber – Colours (2010 reissue): German bassist and composer Weber successfully downscaled his grand scheme devised for The Colours Of Chloë into a nimble little group and influenced many of his ECM label-mates as well as other major contemporary jazz musicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Enrico Rava – The Pilgrim And The Stars (1975, 2008 reissue): Pilgrim is a uncompromising blend of Euro-jazz and American hard bop that launched the reign of one of Europe’s finest jazz trumpeters.

Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert: Right in the midst of the fusion craze, Jarrett revealed a lot of untapped interest in acoustic and unlabored jazz, as long as the music was honest and fresh. And thirty-five years later, The Köln Concert sounds as fresh and honest as it did when these songs were composed, in front of a live audience.

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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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