Keith Jarrett Delivers Riveting Live Solo Performance from 2016 with ‘Budapest Concert’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

You may have noticed we have not heard much from the prolific Keith Jarrett lately. Now we have the devastating answer from an article published in The New Times just last week – “But this month Mr. Jarrett, 75, broke the silence, plainly stating what happened to him: a stroke in late February 2018, followed by another one that May. It is unlikely he will ever perform in public again.” That backdrop makes this release that much more important.

Budapest Concert is the second complete show to be issued from Keith Jarrett’s 2016 European tour, recorded two weeks earlier than the widely-acclaimed concert released as Munich 2016. The new double album documents the pianist’s solo performance at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest. Jarrett, whose family roots reach back to Hungary, viewed the concert as akin to a homecoming together with his lifelong affection for Bartók, as he explained to the audience. As such, the context inspired much creative improvisation. Not only does one notice the breadth of Jarrett’s many styles, from melodic to fully improvised, free jazz pieces, to classical and even blues and folk idioms; but the adoration of the audience is clearly palpable. The reception is like a long-lost hero returning home. He can do no wrong.

Where Jarrett’s early solo concerts shaped a large arc of music over the course of an evening, his later performances, particularly since the Radiance album, have generated suite-like structures, comprised of independent “movements”, each of them a marvel of spontaneous resourcefulness. Reviewing Munich 2016 in London’s Financial Times, Mike Hobart suggested that “the early recitals mixed classical musings, populist references and jazz spontaneity into extended streams of invention, but later recitals separated the strands.” If the process of improvisation was once the subject of the concerts, it could be said that Jarrett’s 21st century solo concerts are less about seeking than finding. There is nothing tentative about the music making on display here: its sense of assurance is among its striking characteristics – whether a ballad, a polyrhythmic study, a tone poem or an essay on the blues is being shaped in the moment.”

There are only two pieces here with names, both familiar covers that serve as encores – “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” and “Answer Me, My Love.” The latter was previously released by ECM on May 8, 2020, to mark Jarrett’s 75th birthday. The song was written by Austrian lyricist Fred Rauch and German musician Gerhard Winkler. The original German title was ‘Schütt die Sorgen in ein Gläschen Wein, Mütterlein,’ or simply ‘Mütterlein.’ Carl Sigman wrote the English lyrics in 1952, after which it became a major hit for both Frankie Laine and David Whitfield. “Answer Me” also became closely associated with Nat King Cole after his 1954 recording. Dozens of other versions include interpretations by Gene Pitney, the Impressions, Peaches and Herb, Bryan Ferry and Joni Mitchell.

The preceding pieces are simply numbered Part 1 – Part XII, although the latter has ‘Blues’ written aside. Disc 1 extends for just 37 minutes, comprising Part I – Part IV with the former being by far the set’s lengthiest at close to15 minutes. Disc 2 runs for 53 minutes, consisting of 10 tracks, a couple that are in the two-three-minute range. 

There is no way this writer can top this description from Gábor Bóta on Hungary’s Népsava news site – “His magnetism for the audience must come from his polygenre attitude. Jarrett consumes all genres, from light to serious, and makes them his own. Since the entire performance is improvised, we witness the music being birthed right in front of us…One feels that he just sniffs the air, catches a moment’s feeling, clicks his fingers, squints his eyes and there we have it: the right notes, the right melodies, a completely unique performance.”

 Lately, Keith Jarrett has been saying that he views Budapest Concert as his current “gold standard”, the reference work against which other solo recordings might be measured. This is an artist that has delivered over 100 recordings, most of the solo. Consider his fertile period of the mid – ‘70s when he was issuing five or six recordings per year. Arguably, Jarrett stamped his career with 1975’s The Köln Concert, which still holds up as the premiere solo piano recording of the last five decades and led to a bevy of solo piano recordings both in classical and jazz. So, let his statement of “gold standard” sink in for a few minutes. Also, expect his long-running label, ECM, to unearth more Jarrett recordings going forward.

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