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Special CD Review: The 1970s and Pianist Keith Jarrett Expectations (Columbia Legacy, 1972, 2000) and Fort Yawuh (Impulse Records, 1973, 1999)

By Brian L. Knight

 

During the early 1970s, talented pianist Keith Jarrett was exploring the "New Thing" of jazz. Best known for his solo performances at the Koln Music Festival or his fusion explorations with Miles Davis, Jarrett recruited a capable band that shared a similar avant-garde musical vision. With saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Paul Motian, Jarrett deviated from the hard bop and fusion that he was playing in the late 1960s and decided to let things go free. Two albums that displayed this phase of Jarrett’s career are Expectations (1972) and Fort Yawuh (1973) which have been re-released on Columbia/Legacy and Impulse Records, respectively. When one listens to these albums, one will hear that Jarrett was much more than flirting with the avant-garde – he was incorporating everything that he has learned before and forging his own musical style.

 

Expectations was recorded in the studio in 1972 and Fort Yawuh was taken from a live performance at New York City’s Village Vanguard in 1973. By the time that these recordings were held, all three of Jarrett’s main supporting cast had long established themselves as ingenious free jazzers. Despite their reputations, Jarrett was not willing to let things completely go like fellow pianists Cecil Taylor or Andrew Hill. His music still possessed roots in blues, gospel, Latin and hard bop and liked to keep the tunes relatively free of all out cacophony. It was this ability to explore the limitations of music but still create a swinging composition that made Jarrett a talented performer.

For the Expectations session, Jarrett brought Redman, Haden, Motian into the studio and was joined by percussionist Airto Moreira and guitarist Sam Brown. The track begins with a 48-second solo Jarrett piece, "Vision", in which he is accompanied by a full string section. For "Common Mama", Moreira, Haden and Motian lay down a polyrhythmic Latin beat with Jarrett and Haden soloing beautifully on top. On "The Magician In You", the little known guitarist Sam Brown is introduced for this bluesy piece. Brown had previously worked with fusioneers like Gary Burton, Jeremy Steig and Mike Mainieri, yet he never received the full respect he deserved. This re-release will solve that in justice. On " Roussillion", the band finally lets things go as Jarrett and Redman both play frenetic discordant solos on top of a tribal beat. The string section returns for the title track, which shows the soft melodic style that one associates with Jarrett’s Koln albums. With the absence of Redman and Brown as well, "Expectations" really brings out the subtle romantic playing of the traditional rhythm section lineup. Sam Brown returns for both "Take Me Back", which could easily made it somewhere on Exile on Main Street, and "The Circular Letter", which goes the other way as it could easily be found on a Pharoah Sanders/McCoy Tyner album. If these songs are not enough to not only cover the breadth of the music spectrum as well as be audibly enjoyable, Expectations is a 2 CD set. The second disk has the epic "Nomads", that runs 17+ minutes and makes excursions into both free and fusion. As always, Moreira, Motian and Haden maintain the most ambitious of rhythms. Throughout the album, you can also hear the diversity of Jarrett’s talents as he plays the organ, soprano saxophone, and tambourine.

For the live performance, percussionist Danny Johnson joined the main quartet. The opening "(If the) Misfits (Wear It)", which logs in over thirteen minutes long, features the rhythm section setting a frantic pace with Jarrett’s nimble fingers attacking the keys with a breakneck speed. Its not until almost seven minutes into the song, that Redman comes out with a blistering solos that ranks him in a category with John Coltrane or Albert Ayler. Jarrett also gets into the fold with his rarely heard soprano saxophone. For the title track, the pace is slowed down a bit with an Art Ensemble of Chicago-like introduction that features economic use of piano and percussion. The song eventually evolves into a piano solo in which Jarrett segues between percussion type block chords to melodic runs and then back again. By the time the rest of the band joins in, you get to hear Redman on the Chines Musette which resembles a mix between a kazoo and a soprano saxophone. The remaining three songs the bluesy "De Drums" with a killer bass laid down by Charlie Haden, the soft "Still Life, Still Life" and the previously unreleased "Roads Travelled, Roads Veiled" all exhibit the diversity of styles and moods that this exciting band were able to create. Masterfully recorded by Ed Michel, Fort Yawuh is a fine example of Jarrett in a band environment that sounds as fresh and exciting today as it probably did at the Village Vanguard in 1973.

Both of these recordings show Jarrett’s inability to stay routed in one style or genre. Jarrett may have played free jazz as a style on various occasions but he was never confined by it. What really made Jarrett a free jazz player was that he freely played any type of jazz – Latin, be-bop, African polyrythms and the avant-garde just to mentions a few. As Jarrett wrote for the re-release liner notes for Expectations, he also believes that his music cannot be labeled: " Although I am considered eclectic. I don’t think I fit this category because I see various ways of expression as part of the same flow; the same attempt. I don’t see it as different "things"; so when I hear true eclecticism I think……………………these elements are not fitting together to make a whole, they’re just creating a style distinguishable mostly by its borrowed elements. As an artist you cannot help seeing or hearing things that influence your work, especially if your receptive bandwidth is wide. But what then comes from you is your singular voice, this is not a style, this is not eclectic." Who needs journalism when the master says it best.