The intimacy of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert is what makes the 1975 such a tremendous experience, listen after listen. Regardless of the details, like whether or not he was playing on the “wrong piano,” Jarrett’s performance is about connecting the music to the listener.
Much in the same way, pianist Christian Jacob’s Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert sees its goal as joining the music to the listener. And much in the same way as The Köln Concert, intimacy is key.
Jacob’s disc was recorded at Zipper Concert Hall in Los Angeles on a Hamburg Steinway Model D grand piano, a lovely instrument in its own right. And the French pianist plays it with grace, which should be a given considering the Grammy-nominated artist’s path thus far. Jacob was perhaps first noticed as pianist, arranger and one of many co-leaders with the Tierney Sutton Band. He branched out for a solo career that has included the Christian Jacob Trio, with Trey Henry and Ray Brinker featuring on the last three recordings.
Beautiful Jazz strips away the history and awards to place Jacob and his piano in a room, concentrating on the lush lines and sophisticated phrasing that can only come from such closeness.
Through the course of the album’s 13 pieces, the listener really gets the sense that Jacob is comfortable walking down many different roads. Perhaps this comes from the pianist’s history, with time spent at the Paris Conservatory with Pierre Sancan. He worked extensively under the classical umbrella, but a pull toward jazz music was seductive. Blame Take Five for that.
Indeed, the Dave Brubeck influences are strong on Beautiful Jazz – especially in Jacob’s refined sense of things. He rolls from standards to classical touches with flexibility and control, edging into a dynamic interpretation of the 7/4 “That’s All” with just as much ease as his brilliant version of Igor Stravinsky’s “Etude No. 4 F# Major.”
It’s clear that Jacob aches for jazz music. He plays Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” with the elation of a true fan, working through the countless chord changes without an ounce of trepidation. And his version of “Body and Soul,” a ballad he first heard when played by Oscar Peterson, takes its time to ripen.
Jacob’s Beautiful Jazz really does feel like a private concert. It draws a line between the nine-year-old boy who became hooked on Brubeck and the professional pianist with classical training, but it never loses step along the way. Jacob is as fervent as ever when it comes to this music and his great skill lies in his capacity to express that passion to his listeners.
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