Keith Jarrett’s ECM Debut of Solo Piano Reaches 50 Year Milestone Anniversary with ‘Facing You’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Keith Jarrett’s Facing You celebrated the 50th anniversary of its recording date on November 10, 1971. The album was recorded in Oslo Norway ‘s Arne Bendiksen Studio and was one of the first produced by long-running ECM leader Manfred Eicher. This is a landmark recording that paved the way for a series of solo recordings from Jarrett and others. It led the way to Jarrett’s iconic Koln Concert and one we reviewed last year, his latest release, Budapest Concert. The influences of classical and blues are very evident in these eight pieces, a distinct departure from much of what was happening at the time in jazz.  

The opening ten-minute “In Front” is a capsulation of the many traits we’ve long associated with Jarrett – both deliberate and playful. He uses certain motifs as jumping off points but it’s as if much of the history of the piano is embedded in this one piece from boogie-woogie and barrelhouse to snippets of Liszt and Chopin. The harmonies were very new for the time, his use of the hands being rather revolutionary with the left often leading instead of the right.

Consider that Jarrett was only 26 at the time. As you listen to the flow, “Ritorria” is rhapsodic, somewhat evoking Gershwin while “Lalene” is filled with warm notes conducive to the best of love songs, as strong as any standard that emits a similar feeling, yet brief sequences of blues riffs surround the theme before becoming more pensive in the latter part of the piece interspersed with rapid runs to keep it just bright enough. He goes into a more delicate, thoughtful mode on “My Lady, My Child,” using sustained notes and chords to great effect. “Landscape for Future Earth” is also a pensive piece, serving as an interlude of sorts but it has elements of country gospel, further evidence of Jarrett’s expansive approach. “Starbright” is a relaxed, coherent piece with shifts in dynamics rather than tempo. “Vapalia” is a bit lighter still while “Semblence” is more free edge, less melodic and playful. Listen closely though, and there are some brief nods to stride piano here too. 

Prior to this, most solo piano recordings were associated with Art Tatum who enjoyed his prime period during the mid- fifties. Yet, Jarrett was different in several respects. These are all original compositions, improvised on the spot (as pointed out, he did not prepare), traverses a wide swath of moods from introspective to brightly playful, and importantly, was not strict jazz but a melding of influences. This music is highly expressive and as fresh as ever. 

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