“This formation remains one of the best, not just of this, but of all times,” wrote Jürg Meier, reviewing the Luzern concert of Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. “Their engagement with the Great American Songbook, the standards of jazz, is exemplary in the simultaneity of absolute respect for the material and absolute freedom in dealing with it.“ The songs are honoured for their melodic strengths and credited with sufficient robustness to support fiery improvisation that scales a heaven of invention.
The Luzern set (recorded July 2009) finds Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette improvising on some celestial themes. The entry point, Jarrett’s solo meditation “Deep Space”, already breathes the air of another planet, and opens up a flight path for Miles Davis’ “Solar”. That blues-drenched standard, historically famous in the interpretations on Miles’s “Walkin’” and Bill Evans’ “Sunday At The Village Vanguard”, has been a favourite vehicle for the trio. Endlessly manoeuvrable in the hands of these players, it has suggested a sphere of emotion to negotiate, as well as a point of departure for new music. While there are several earlier recorded versions in the trio’s discography (including on “Tribute”, and the “Live in Japan 93/96” DVD): the Luzern version may be the most satisfying yet, exhilarating from the outset.
“Stars Fell On Alabama”, one of the few ballads about meteor showers, follows. Beautifully delivered in the past by artists from Billie Holiday to Cannonball and Coltrane, Jarrett’s shimmering interpretation has the stars falling in slow motion. Not everything adheres to the freely-associative empyrean lyrical subtext: Harold Arlen’s “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” looks in the opposite direction, with a stoical good humour that acknowledges Thelonious Monk’s take on this great tune first popularized by Cab Calloway and by Louis Armstrong.
A version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” evokes a world of peace and quiet and open air which Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette explore until they cross into new territory, with an “Everywhere” like a tribal dance: classic Jarrett ritual music which would not have been out of place on the “Changeless” album. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung spoke of kontrollierter Ekstase – controlled ecstasy – to describe its ostinato-driven pulses. There is more Bernstein in a dancing version of “Tonight”, another song concerned with celestial signs, bright shining moons, and an absence of morning stars.
The closing encore “I Thought About You” makes an arc back to the Miles Davis references at the beginning. Miles played this on “Someday My Prince Will Come”, and it was in the Davis band book for years. Keith, Gary and Jack recorded it previously when paying tribute to Miles on “Bye Bye Blackbird”. The tune’s lyrics, by Johnny Mercer, famously written on a Chicago-bound train itemize the view from a carriage window: “Two or three cars parked under the stars / A winding stream / Moon shining down on some little town…”
The album “Somewhere” is issued in the thirtieth year of the “Standards” project. How do they keep it so fresh? Gary Peacock addressed the question in a Down Beat interview: “We don’t bother with concepts, or theory, or maintaining some image. That’s of no concern whatsoever. So what that leaves is everything. It leaves the music. Once you get to that point where you don’t feel like you have to make a statement anymore, you enter a space of enormous freedom.” A space where the music speaks for itself.