Keith Jarrett, Vienna Konzerthaus, 8 July 2012

Not the kind of gig that I normally go for, this, but I felt compelled to attend because of Keith Jarrett’s stratospheric reputation as a pianist, plus the fact that, like many others, I fell under the spell of The Köln Concert on first hearing and have adored it ever since. That album’s blissful improvisations seemed to take jazz piano as far as I wanted it to go. As one who basically likes no kind of jazz except free jazz, but has never understood the appeal of Cecil Taylor, I immediately connected with Jarrett’s radiant and infinite playing. It would have been nice if this, too, had been a solo concert, but I figured that any Jarrett was better than no Jarrett at all.

So there I sat in the beautiful surroundings of the Konzerthaus, not daring to move or breathe for fear of Jarrett tearing a strip off me in one of his legendary hissy fits. In fact some idiot’s mobile phone did go off at one point, but by some miracle this misdemeanour went unpunished (or perhaps just unnoticed). Otherwise the concert passed off without incident, enabling me to observe Jarrett at close quarters. He really is the oddest pianist I’ve ever seen, now huddled over the keyboard with his head practically touching the keys, now leaning back with his arms at full stretch, now on his feet in some kind of weird crouching position. The famous whoops and hollers were present and correct, adding to the sense of wilful eccentricity that pervaded the performance. More than that, though, what they demonstrated was Jarrett’s rapt and total immersion in the necessity of the music.

Oh yes, the music. I found it only intermittently interesting, if the truth be told. I’m not qualified to talk about it, however, since I don’t really know what Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette were up to, although I assume they were playing jazz standards and improvising around them to some extent. Since I was unable to recognize any of these standards myself, the impact was somewhat muted. The rhythm section also sounded rather pedestrian to me, with neither Peacock nor DeJohnette at all inclined to cut loose. But there was no doubting the richness, beauty and limpid clarity of Jarrett’s playing.

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