Keith Jarrett’s trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette is as likely, today, to play music never-before-heard as music from the Great American Songbook, and on their last two releases, “Always Let Me Go” and “Inside Out” they pushed the envelope of so-called free playing in a multiplicity of ways. There are no longer any self-imposed limits in the group’s working method. Now, however, to celebrate the trio’s 20th anniversary as a working band, comes an album - recorded one rainy day last summer at the Antibes Festival in the South of France - which once again embraces the world of standards. As always with Jarrett, however, his work in one area influences his discoveries in another and there is a wonderfully liquid, free-flowing quality to his improvisations on “up for it”. In his liner notes, Jarrett details the less-than-ideal circumstances in which the Antibes concert took place – a ‘waterlogged’ piano and audience amongst them - but there can be no doubt that the trio rose to the challenge and delivered one of its most sparkling performances. As Jarrett notes, “When we were on stage, in the middle of the music, nothing else mattered”.
The album finds them romping through pieces that have become, effectively, their ‘greatest hits’, including “My Funny Valentine”, “Someday My Prince Will Come”, “Autumn Leaves”, “If I Were A Bell” and “Butch and Butch”, and there are three tunes new to the group’s discography: Charlie Parker’s bebop masterpiece “Scrapple From The Apple”, the Modern Jazz Quartet’s pensive blues “Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West”, and Jarrett’s own exhilarating “up for it”, which concludes the performance.
Once again, we’re reminded of Jarrett’s statement on this musical idiom: “Standards are underestimated because I don’t think people understand how hard it is to write melody. Most of the composers I’ve recorded on the Standards albums are not considered ‘serious’ but yet they occupy a space that no one in serious composition could possibly occupy; the ability of the serious composers would stop as soon as they were confronted with that little melody form.” At the same time, what an improviser can create within and around the “little melody form” is limited only by his imagination: “I thought someone could show that music wasn’t about material, it was about what you bring to the material. I wanted to say that we don’t possess this, this isn’t our music. You’ll hear us relating to it as seriously as if it were ours, but not changing it into some other thing.”
The release of “up for it” also coincides with an important award for the pianist. Keith Jarrett has just been announced as the winner of the Polar Music Prize 2003, the award conferred by the Royal Swedish Music Academy and considered, in some quarters, to be music’s equivalent of the Nobel. Jarrett was the sole prize-winner this year as, for the first time the jury set aside its habitual “serious” and “popular” categorization. From the jury’s citation:
“The Polar Music Prize for 2003 is being awarded to the American musician, Keith Jarrett, pianist, composer and master of the field of improvisational music. Keith Jarrett’s musical artistry is characterised by his ability to effortlessly cross boundaries in the world of music. Jarrett, who has found his natural home on the ECM label since the 1970’s, has expressed himself over the years in the context of both jazz and compositions for various chamber music ensembles and orchestra. Through a series of brilliant solo performances and recordings that demonstrate his utterly spontaneous creativity, he has simultaneously lifted piano improvisation as an art form to new, unimaginable heights. In the 1980’s, Keith Jarrett launched his trio project, “Standards”, and turned the spotlight on The Great American Songbook. Together with bass player, Gary Peacock, and drummer, Jack DeJohnette, his further development of the art of group improvisation, in what can only be described as chamber music forms, has been completely outstanding.”
Keith Jarrett will receive the prize from His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a gala ceremony at Berwaldhallen in Stockholm on Monday the 12th of May.
On May 7th and 9th the trio of Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette plays concerts at the Stockholm Konserthuset as the conclusion of a brief Spring Tour which also takes in dates in Paris (Olympia Theatre, April 27), Warsaw (Palace of Culture, April 30th), London (Royal Festival Hall, May 3rd), and Brussells (Palais des Beaux Arts, May 5).
Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette return to Europe in the summer to play concerts in Italy (Perugia, July 11 / Milan , July 13 / Rome, July 22 / Cagliari, July 25 / Ancona, July 27), France (Juan-les-Pins, July 17) and Spain (Perlada/Barcelona, July 20). In autumn they undertake an American tour.
To coincide with the release of “up for it”, 20 years of the trio, and the Polar Prize, ECM is also issuing a special book. “Scattered Words” is the title of an 80-page volume that is an annotated Jarrett discography and more. It includes a previously unpublished essay by the pianist on the nature of free playing, quotes culled from three decades of interviews (touching on every aspect of Jarrett’s artistry), a foreword by British author Geoff Dyer, and numerous photos - by Roberto Masotti, Kunihiro Shinohara, K.Shinoyama, Vanina Luchessi and Rose Anne Jarrett.