BARBER – BARTÓK – JARRETT / ECM New Series 2445 player
Keith Jarrett plays Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto op. 38 and Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto no. 3. These recordings, made in 1984 and 1985 in Saarbrücken and Tokyo, make a significant addition to the pianist’s discography as an interpreter of notated music. Jarrett’s recordings of classical repertoire for ECM have focused primarily on Bach and Mozart, though there are also exemplary albums of Handel’s keyboard music, and Shostakovich’s Bach-inspired Preludes and Fugues as well as a crucially important contribution to Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa. Playing Fratres alongside Gidon Kremer, Jarrett’s participation would help to bring a then little-known Estonian composer to world attention. It was a richly creative period. Jarrett had just launched the jazz group with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette that would become known as the Standards Trio and in parallel was giving classical recitals, and continuing with his solo piano improvisations. Splitting his time between jazz standards, the vast literature of classical music and free playing, Jarrett was juggling three different musical disciplines. But as Paul Griffiths points out in his liner note for Barber/Bartók/Jarrett there are some points of overlap.
The concertos of Barber and Bartók “came from a world in which Jarrett was living; in a sense, they allowed him to speak of his own epoch, even while performing a work someone else had notated in detail. That they also belonged to a world in which jazz was living was part of the deal – though it was never the ‘jazz concertos’ of Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and others that gained Jarrett’s advocacy but rather works in which the jazz presence is more subtle, part of the background against which the music is taking place.
Barber’s concerto of 1960-62 exemplifies this, not only in its melodic-harmonic language but also in how it often grows through varied repetitions and partial repetitions of a tune. This happens right from the unaccompanied solo at the start, where Jarrett is able to work with the ideas as if pushing them around, seeing where they will go and how they relate.”
“I loved this piece when I first heard it in the 1960s,” says Jarrett of the Barber concerto in his performer’s note in the CD booklet, and The New York Times acknowledged the quality of his affection in a 1983 concert review: “Here was an accomplished jazz pianist who gave Barber’s piano concerto a performance that was both sensitive and strong. Barber, of course, exhibited some influence of American rhythms and song; Mr. Jarrett closed the circle. His seriousness showed how the crossing of aesthetic lines can be more than merely condescending or entertaining.”
The Barber performance also draws strength from Jarrett’s association with Dennis Russell Davies. Pianist and conductor had been friends since 1974 when they first collaborated in a performance of Carla Bley’s piece 3/4. Davies would subsequently conduct Jarrett’s Arbour Zena music on tour, record Jarrett’s solo piano composition Ritual and (in the 1990s) direct the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in Jarrett’s acclaimed recordings of the Mozart concertos.
Jazz musicians have long admired Bartók, and indeed Bartók expressed interest in jazz. Jarrett, a musician with Hungarian family roots, born in the year of Bartók’s death, had the Mikrokosmos amongst his earliest childhood musical studies and was all but predestined to address the Bartók concertos. Paul Griffiths: “The first movement of the third concerto is an émigré’s dream, treating a Hungarian melody with some of the looseness of improvisation. Jarrett of course understands this well.” And in the last movement, “the two big fugal episodes, which include some of Bartók’s most Bach-like writing, benefit from this pianist’s ability to make canon seem spontaneous – as spontaneous as the surrounding, bounding Hungarian jazz that this performance equally brings to life.”
After the Bartók performance in Tokyo, Jarrett returned to the stage of the Kan’i Hoken Hall to play an improvised solo piece, now titled “Tokyo Encore – Nothing But A Dream.”
CD booklet includes performer’s note by Keith Jarrett, and liner notes by Paul Griffiths.