Over the past 40 years, Keith Jarrett has come to be recognized as one of the most creative musicians of our times – universally acclaimed as an improviser of unsurpassed genius; a master of jazz piano; a classical keyboardist of great depth; and as a composer who has written hundreds of pieces for his various jazz groups, plus extended works for orchestra, soloist, and chamber ensemble.
For the past two decades, Keith Jarrett’s main context for playing jazz has been his trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, which in 2008 celebrates its 25th Anniversary together. The trio first played together in 1977, when Jarrett and DeJohnette played on Peacock’s first ECM Records recording, Tales of Another (Jarrett and DeJohnette had already played together in the late-’60’s with both Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis). In 1983, Jarrett invited the other two to make playing “standards” – the rich body of American Broadway show and jazz tunes from the 1930’s, ’40s and ’50s. At the time it was considered passé for top players to concentrate on “standards”, instead of original material, but Jarrett thought it was important to show that: “Music wasn’t about the material, but what the player brings to the material.”
The original 1983 trio session in New York produced the trio’s first three ECM releases: Standards Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and Changes. Thirteen “live” concert recordings have followed on ECM, each recorded in a different international city: Standards Live (Paris 1985), Still Live (Munich 1986), Changeless (US Tour 1987), Tribute (Cologne 1989), Standards in Norway (Oslo 1989), The Cure (New York/Town Hall 1990), Live at The Blue Note (New York 1994), Tokyo ’96 (Tokyo, 1996), Whisper Not (Paris 1999), and the releases, Inside Out (London, 2000) and Always Let Me Go (Tokyo, 2001), both recordings of freely improvised trio music recorded live in concert.
On January 22, 2008, ECM released Setting Standards: New York Sessions a 3-CD box-set to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the trio. This wonderful collection is worth exploring for any fan of the piano-bass-drum jazz trio.
“From the very beginning Jarrett emphasized two imperatives: they must take the standards seriously as great if unrecognized art on a small scale, and they had to do so from an up-to-date and radically improvisational vantage point. Once the musicians entered the studio the effect was astonishing. The old tunes unleashed a rush of emotions, a delight in streams of collective communication, without preconditions, following not only the skeletal chord changes but the melodic lines of force in the originals.” – Peter Rüedi, in the liner notes
For some, the Great American Songbook has been tapped out; but for Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette, it’s still a wellspring of inspiration and a source of spontaneous composition of the most collective kind. Their musical telepathy is second to none. The release of Setting Standards and My Foolish Heart within months of each other makes clear that, a quarter century since inception, this trio and its paradoxically specific yet wide-reaching concept has by no means overstayed its welcome.