Keith Jarrett Rio (ECM)

The old tightrope-walker cliché that gets used in jazz reviews actually takes on an irrefutable resonance when applied to the way Keith Jarrett has approached his solo shows through the last four decades. There is something truly daring about sitting at the piano and holding forth for 120 minutes of unscripted improvisation. It’s a big old crap shoot: will the resultant music be engaging enough to thoroughly entertain an audience. From Bremen/Lausanne to Testament Jarrett’s managed to blend rumination with ebullience with enough dynamic thrust to earn himself an audience that hangs on his every note.

Rio keeps that status intact. Indeed, it’s one of Jarrett’s most fetching solo discs. The pianist has long moved back and forth between non-stop, rapturous excursions to short pieces that stand by themselves, and the Spring, 2011 Brazilian concert that generated this music was geared toward the latter. I’m a fan of the free-flowing approach, but the focus that’s found in each of the discrete tracks here is seductive. “Part XII” is lilting yet resolved – one of his prettiest gossamer moments. “Part X” is antsy yet determined – a modern smooch to Art Tatum. 

The piece that begins the performance is perhaps the most enchanting. Using tempo and tone, he turns a chattering stream of phrases into an essay on dissonance’s alluring side. The left hand bounces bass patterns, the right hand responds with animated trills. The piece is bother skittish and secure. The fact that it’s a spontaneous workout only adds to its rich mystique. Jarrett, like few others, has a way of making the extraordinary seem commonplace.  

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