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From: The Australian
May 11, 2012 12:00AM
ABOUT 35 years ago a young, idiosyncratic, temperamental genius played a series of solo piano concerts across Japan, setting a new standard for endurance. Keith Jarrett was already known for playing with Miles Davis, but this was something else.
At the same time as his jazz career was taking shape, Jarrett had been building a reputation for long-form solo concerts of entirely improvised music.
The previous year saw the release of the Koln Concert, a masterpiece that won fans around the world. Next came the Sun Bear concerts, a full record of his Japan tour. Critics mocked the audacity — it was a 10-LP box set — but the music spoke for itself, and endured.
This week Jarrett returned to Japan for two solo concerts, continuing his relationship with an audience he knows well.
Japan has become familiar territory; he’s played there dozens of times since Sun Bear days.
Australian promoters watch with envy, unable to convince the notoriously fickle musician to travel here. But long-haul flights aside, can Australia compete?
On Sunday night, at the Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, it was possible to identify clues to Jarrett’s affection for the country.
It’s a few minutes before 7pm, and a bell rings out across the auditorium. The gesture is mostly redundant, as the vast majority of the concert hall is already seated. Not only that: they sit in total silence.
The house lights are on, Jarrett is nowhere to be seen and a heady expectation hangs in the air. The lights dim and the star steps on to the stage, hands to his temples as though lost in thought.
Forty minutes of improvisation rush past. In Jarrett’s early solo concerts, he played pieces that lasted up to 40 minutes each.
In recent years these shortened — to the point that on his latest album, Rio, no piece exceeds nine minutes.
Jarrett has found a way to refine ideas into rich, emotionally contained morsels that last only as long as they must. All are delivered with flawless virtuosity and the usual Jarrett eccentricities (standing, grunting, singing, hooting, stamping). And so it is on Sunday.
The first set is broken up into short pieces. It’s thrilling stuff, but he seems to be holding something back. The hall feels tense.
At the end of each piece, a man in the crowd moans before applause rushes across the hall. Jarrett bows deeply, and the silence falls again.
The second half follows a similar pattern, but the mood feels different. The crowd has been urged to wait a moment before applauding (an announcement surely aimed at the moaning man), but it’s more than that. They wait again in silence for Jarrett to appear, and in the applause that greets him to the stage, both performer and audience seem more at ease.
Jarrett, alone and exposed at the piano, is at the top of his game. He conjures fully formed compositions with deep wells of beauty: impressionistic melodies, double-handed fireworks, gentle grooves, folky narratives, rapid abstractions. He even plays the strings of the piano, something he rarely does. The crowd gives as much back. And it’s here that one of Jarrett’s secrets can be found.
Apart from his debut for ECM and one restorative album of standards, his solo albums have all been recorded in front of a live audience. (This one, like all others, is recorded too, though a release is not guaranteed.)
As his head and shoulders dip in a bow, Jarrett seems both drained and exalted. At one point, when the applause falls to silence, he waves his arms. “Energy,” he says, as though that needs no explanation.
Several standing ovations and three encores cap an enchanting experience.
Jarrett needs an audience, but not for egotistical reasons. He’s the star, but in a concert of improvisation, the audience has a role as well. They are more than witnesses. They are invited to join in the mystery of creation, participants in a creative journey that Jarrett leads better than anyone alive.
Keith Jarrett performs again, solo, in Tokyo tonight.