There have been many exceptional recordings by the "Standards Trio" since the group was launched in 1983. This one, however, has particular significance for Keith Jarrett's vast audience. It is the first recording issued following the pianist's triumphant return to the concert platform after a three years absence. In that time, in the grip of a debilitating illness, he had been able only to complete the home-recorded and bare-boned "The Melody At Night, With You", a recording that turned adversity to ad-vantage by focussing intently - as few jazz players ever had - on the melodic structure of American standards and folk songs. Paradoxically, this album, virtually stripped of improvisational content, turned out to be one of the great improviser's most successful albums.
Jarrett says that recording "The Melody At Night" transformed his approach to playing ballads. As he explained to England's The Guardian recently: "What I do is transform energy into music. So the quality of energy changed and I transformed what was left of that energy into something I wished I had been able to find before. When you have a lot of energy you tend to want to do a lot of things. I had only enough energy to do one thing, which made it more Zen-like -play the melody, but really play the melody.... I learnt something about playing the piano. The heart determines where the music comes from, and there was more heart in that recording than there was virtuosity, but what I had as a pianist I put into the heart place, and that can translate into other contexts." Keith Jarrett also took up this theme in an interview with American magazine Jazziz. "When the trio has been playing recently, the way we play ballads has changed. For me that's partly because of 'The Melody At Night, With You'. I'd had the need to play, but had an inability to be my old self. I had to reinvent how to play and get at least what I was used to getting from playing, and then I discovered I was actually getting more from less. In theory, I always knew that could be true, that it could be all about the melody."
And so it is that the ballads on the present set, recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at Paris's Palais des Congrès have a special luminescence. Benny Golson's "Whisper Not", Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge", Monk's "Round Midnight", Heyman/Young's "When I Fall In Love" (still associated with, above all, the Bill Evans Trio"), and "All My Tomorrows" the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen song that Shirley Horn has made her own - all of these are honoured as compositions, firstly, rather than as springboards for improvisation. Jarrett says "I've wanted to stick to the melody if I could get enough out of the melody. One of the things about jazz players who are mediocre is they wish the melody would go away: 'Let's play the melody, and then let's play.' It's a test of the player to be able to get something from the actual vehicle."
Uptempo tunes though - and particularly those created, in the first instance, to propel a bop soloist to heights of invention - are another matter. Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette soar on Bud Powell's "Bouncin' With Bud" and "Hallucinations", Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High", and Clifford Brown's "Sandu"; this is bebop played at the highest level. Jarrett: "With bebop the phrasing is more like a voice phrasing, because most of the bebop players were horn players. I wanted to have a chance to phrase like that..." The goal, in fact, is to transform the idiom of Charlie Parker to the piano, and Jarrett is one of very few pianists with the fluency to achieve this.
The international press on the Standards Trio:
Los Angeles Times: "Very simply, this is jazz at its finest. The Jarrett Trio - with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette - has been one of the stellar examples of contemporary improvisation since the early 80s, producing a series of superb recordings filled with a repertoire of standards."
The Observer: "At their best, Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette are matchless."
Jazzman (France): "This is the most exciting trio of the last 50 years."
Jazz Journal (UK): "Quintessential, joyously swinging evidence of the passion and intelligence that mark jazz at its best."
Time Magazine: "Beneath Jarrett's fluid fingers, the keyboard ripples spontaneously while his lyrical bassist, Gary Peacock, and elegant drummer, Jack DeJohnette, match him move for move. Heads nod approvingly as the melody is handed off from instrument to instrument, three men doing what they love best: making music with hand and heart "
L.A. Weekly: "Witnessing a performance from this trio is as close to divinity as many of us will ever get."