Keith Jarrett’s so-called American quartet, meaning the ensemble of bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Paul Motian, and saxophonist Dewey Redman led by the esteemed pianist during the early-mid ’70s, has never lacked for accolades, but of late their work has been intently heralded by musicians and critics alike. Rightfully so: the foursome’s vitality was unique, boasting lyricism, agility and a particularly earthy quality marked by Redman’s natural gruffness.
In comparison, the pianist’s European quartet of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen felt a bit more prim. Overlapping in activity by several years, the bands had similar designs but different approaches. Everything seemed comparatively reserved on luminous titles such as Euro 4’s Belonging and My Song. Sleeper, a live double disc fresh from the ECM vaults, eradicates that “prim” designation, and proves the band was closer to their rambunctious American cousins than conventional wisdom has had us believe.
Recorded during the same live 1979 date as the previously issued Personal Mountains, this new album is a cleverly contoured ride that suggests the rhythm sections of both outfits were of equal clout, supplying their colleagues with non-stop ardor that nudged Jarrett and Garbarek to unexpected levels of frenzy.
Maybe frenzy is too strong a term, but even in its quiet moments Sleeper is rife with exuberance. Christensen’s kinetic pummel, the leader’s percussive trills, Garbarek’s fierce attack – the album’s signature trait is momentum, and the vivid audio mix makes the action that much more animated. One of those dates where you agree with Jarrett’s occasional “Ohhhhhhh” interjections because you can definitely hear the ardor he’s celebrating.
Putting interplay front and center while delivering a parade of delectable melodies, Sleeper is a marvel of commotion. And given the title of the sideways funk opus that is “Chant Of The Soil,” yes, it might be just as earthy as some of the discs made by Jarrett’s U.S. team.