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.
Nearly 35 years separate this work from the large-scale Piano Concerto completed in 1985. Harrison's fascination with exotic musical sounds and designs led him to the actual building of Oriental instruments, including two complete gamelans. This activity, in turn, led him to a consideration of the manner in which instruments are tuned, and of systems of intonation in use throughout the world in the past and present.
This disc unites works by two distinctly original American composers who, while maintaining their own identities, share many similarities. To begin with, both men live on the West Coast: Alan Hovhaness in Seattle, Lou Harrison just outside Santa Cruz, California. This is more than an accident of geography: the Eastern seaboard has been the traditional centre of American musical life and both Hovhaness and Harrison are, to a degree, outsiders. They follow no leaders, lead no followers. Yet such is the appeal of their work that they have brought the musical mainstream to them rather than bending their aesthetics to public or professional taste.
Thanks in no small part to ECM founder Manfred Eicher's patience and indulgence, here we have another of Keith Jarrett's myriad of "special projects" – two CDs of music recorded on a clavichord. This carries Jarrett's anti-electric crusade to a real extreme, the clavichord being a keyboard from J.S. Bach's day, obsolete for over 200 years. The instrument produces a gentle pinging sound like a harpsichord crossed with a zither (the amplified Hohner Clavinet is the closest sound in our time), and Jarrett occasionally tries to stretch the instrument's limited possibilities, hammering percussively on the close-miked strings. Yet for the most part, Jarrett reins in his world-class technique in order to make unpretentiously minimal music on this ancient keyboard. Some of it sounds like folk music, some like new age contemplation, there are convincing neo-baroque musings, and a few of these untitled though numbered selections kick into a higher gear. Sometimes this music is charming; a lot of the time, it gets wearisome. But hey, they also laughed when Keith started putting out massive sets of solo piano…
Keith Jarrett weaves a special kind of spell in his improvisations, one somehow connected to a greater humanity, for though the music and playing are ethereal, one is never mistaken that they are anything but earthly. Jarrett is not a mere vessel, but a creative force of flesh and bone whose fingers speak in ways we can only understand without words. This live recording from Tokyo’s Suntory Hall expands that flesh, and feels so intimate it might as well have grown away from others in the cave of his private studio.
Keith Jarrett's first solo acoustic piano recording remains one of his best. At this point in late 1971, Jarrett had just started improvising completely freely. That does not mean that his solos were necessarily atonal but simply that they were not planned in any way in advance. The music on these eight improvisations are often quite melodic, very rhythmic and bluesy. This set makes for a perfect introduction to Jarrett's many solo piano recordings.
Jarrett's 1970s albums may have confused some purists but they should be a goldmine for contemporary fans of all stripes who like improvised music. El Juicio is an excellent early Jarrett album and finds him in typically eclectic form with his classic American quartet. I nominate the opener, "Gypsy Moth," as the best piece on the record. Sounding a little like a more confident version of "Lisbon Stomp," from Jarrett's 1967 debut album Life Between the Exit Signs, Jarrett first whips up a rollicking theme on the piano and then switches to soprano sax towards the end, the rhythm section swinging hard throughout.