Keith Jarrett's numerous volumes of improvised solo piano recordings are all treasure troves of spontaneous music making. Documented since the 1970s, they reveal the opening of his music as it readily embraces classical and sacred music influences, filters out what is unnecessary in his technique, and encounters the depth and breadth of the jazz tradition and his own unique abilities as a composer. The four discs in A Multitude of Angels were recorded in as many Italian cities during the last week of October 1996 – some 20 months after the concert captured on La Scala.
Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has recorded Bach before, on both piano and harpsichord. His interpretations are not jazz versions of Bach but are played straight. In this case you might say relatively straight, for Bach's sonatas for violin and keyboard, BWV 1014-1019, were written for a harpsichord and are generally played that way; somehow the ear is jarred more by the piano here than in Bach's solo keyboard music (which Jarrett has also recorded). Jarrett fans will find the evidence of his characteristic style not in rhythmic inflections toward jazz but in his way of sustaining notes, which is never excessive.
Wanda Landowska brought the Goldbergs out of hiding on the harpsichord in the '40s and Glenn Gould made them a bonafide hit on the piano in the '50s, opening the floodgates for keyboardists of all stripes. So, in one of his earlier recorded voyages into the classical world, Keith Jarrett is up against an imposing legacy as he tackles what has become the most famous set of variations in Western music. First, he chooses to play them on a double-manual harpsichord – which makes the task somewhat easier, avoiding the finger-tangling cross hand difficulties that can trip up a piano performance.
Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier is performed on the piano while Book Two is performed on the harpsichord. His tempos are very fast, and he has a certain sense of humor that comes through in all his performances, making what might seem academic, warm and accessible. Highly recommended - and check out Jarrett's other classical recordings for other delights just as great.
Two of vibraphonist Gary Burton's albums from 1969-1970 are reissued in full on this single CD. Burton teams up with pianist Keith Jarrett for five numbers (including four of Jarrett's originals) in 1970, using a quintet that also features guitarist Sam Brown, bassist Steve Swallow, and drummer Bill Goodwin. The other session has more of an avant-country flavor, with Burton, Swallow, and Goodwin joined by guitarist Jerry Hahn and violinist Richard Greene; Michael Gibbs and Swallow contributed most of the obscurities. Burton was at his most explorative during this period, which is why he can be considered one of the pioneers of fusion (although his music never really fit into a tight category). This is excellent music that mostly still sounds fresh.
Keith Jarrett is such a fine musician that he, as a composer as well as a performer and a jazz interpreter as well as a classics interpreter, knows when to simply let the written notes be played the way they were written. His Bach is very straightforward: yes, he embellishes in keeping with the indications and musical period of Bach, but he never lets the embellishments sound as though they should call attention to the performer. Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier is performed on the piano while Book Two is performed on the harpsichord.
Jarrett seems to me to have successfully bridged the jazz world with the classical, proving himself in the process to be quite a formidable Bach player. There is nothing gimmicky or shallow in his playing; indeed, his fine rhythmic sense allied to a lively feeling for gesture, his grasp of ornament and his sheer spontaneity are aspects of the jazz musician's craft as much as the classical player's and they serve Bach's music extremely well….
Dmitri Shostakovich's epic series of preludes and fugues for solo piano was inspired by the very composer whom you would immediately suspect – Johann Sebastian Bach. Indeed, the Russian composer was motivated to write this huge work after a visit to Bach's home city Leipzig in 1950; and, in fact, it resurrects the premise behind Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," providing one prelude and fugue for every major and minor key. So having conquered the Bach work on recordings, Keith Jarrett decided to tackle its 20th century sequel in this two-CD set. Looking at it from one angle, this is Jarrett's most impressive technical achievement in the classical repertoire so far. Generally speaking, the Shostakovich is more difficult to play than the other classical works that he had recorded previously, and he is clearly up to all of its sometimes fearsome demands.
Keith Jarrett is incredibly gifted both as a painist and as a harpsichordist. That he chose the harpsichord for his rendition of the Golberg Variations suggests that he found it capable of rendering a closer approximation of his ideal interpretation of these works. Hearing it is indeed a great joy!