Jazz CD Review

Keith Jarrett plays a duo; Ran Blake feeds off of his visual film noir diet.

jazz 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
jazz 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
ECM/Hatav Hashmini
What? Keith Jarrett playing duo? If nothing else, Jasmine represents a seemingly startling departure from the veteran pianist’s regular three-decade-plus trio lineup or occasional solo endeavor. Then again, bassist Haden is an old Jarrett collaborator, even if that was in the ’70s: back then they worked together on a regular basis in the pianist’s acclaimed American Quartet, which ran from 1971 to 1979.
Haden also contributed to Jarrett’s debut outing as leader, 1967’s Life Between the Exit Signs. So, it can be said, the two seasoned pros know each pretty well.
It comes as no surprise, then, to find that Jasmine is essentially an intimate tete-atete, almost as if the two were enjoying a quiet chat by the fireside. The energy level of the album follows a mostly consistent low plateau but there are plenty of subtle changes and departures en route across the rich musical topography.
Haden has always put out the richest and velvetiest of sounds, and that works as the perfect foil for Jarrett’s slightly more cuspate keyboard work. The synergy seems to work best when Jarrett goes off a cushioned bluesy tangent with Haden happy to fluff out the sound as only he can.
It is intriguing to follow the way Jarrett works with the Cy Coleman-A. McCarthy standard “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life,” especially as Haden included the number in his sumptuous, aptly entitled 1999 release The Art of the Song, for which he employed the services of a chamber orchestra in addition to his own Quartet West and a couple of vocalists. Naturally, two instrumentalists on their own can’t possibly compete with the vast array of possibilities Haden had at his behest on the earlier outing, but Jarrett and Haden give it a good shot, nonetheless.
Camera Obscura
Inner Circle Music
Ran Blake has always been one of the less predictable of pianists. Now 75, he fed off an early tantalizing visual film noir diet, which informs his output to this day.
On Camera Obscura he delves into a more melodic and lyrical territory than has generally been the case over his long career to date. Portuguese-born 31- year-old Sara Serpa certainly helps in this regard, her vocals soaring with pristinely emotive warmth, often adding a childlike quality to some of Blake’s darker chords. On “The Short Life of Barbara Monk,” penned by Blake, the pair go on a walkabout into more ethereal strata, with Serpa sounding a bit like a younger version of British vocalist Norma Winstone.
Despite the four decade-plus age gap between them, Blake and Serpa sound like good friends and they work well together, plying their way through complex chord structures like a knife through the proverbial creamy butter. This pair conveys a sense of commensurate ease, bordering on the insouciant, when executing material that with other artists may have sounded highly challenging.
Flying Toward the Sound
When it comes to chops, pianist Geri Allen has ’em in abundance. Now 53, Allen has served her dues – and then some – with some of the greats of the modern jazz community, including the likes of drummers Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams, saxophonist Charles Lloyd – with whom she appeared at the Red Sea Jazz Festival a few years ago – and iconic vocalist Betty Carter.
Flying Toward the Sound is an ambitious solo expedition which finds Allen at her exploratory and lyrical best. She cites Keith Jarrett as one of her influences and that comes through clearly in some of her flowing riffs and rubato passages.
But there is often an edge to Allen’s work which adds prismatic colors and textures that keeps the listener captivated.
The album subtitle notes Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock as the inspirations for the album and, when it comes to improvisational nourishment, you can’t get a better feed than that.
Solo piano CDs aren’t always the easiest to listen to, and the ride sometimes gets a mite bumpy, but Flying Toward the Sound is a rewarding audio odyssey.