Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Keith Jarrett Trio - Yesterdays

Keith Jarrett Trio
(2009, ECM)
RIYL: Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Vince Guaraldi, Thelonious Monk

Keith Jarrett is a legendary jazz pianist for a reason. His trio of 25 years, with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, is the most legendary jazz trio alive, and for a reason. That reason being? Give a few listens to their newest offering, Yesterdays—you tell me. But, a little about the record, just in case you need some goading… Yesterdays is a live standards album, recorded in Tokyo in 2001. The trio plays (more-or-less) straightforward jazz, and the songs on Yesterdays are, well, standards—they’ve been played by hundreds of artists, and for decades. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ve probably heard them. What, then, makes this album remarkable? Hint: the men are giants of their instruments. For years, it’s been argued that Jarrett is one of the greatest pianists of all-time (and not just as a jazz player). DeJohnette is the consummate improvisational drummer, famous for incorporating experimentation into a very classic drum style. And Peacock just freaking eats this set for breakfast. As much as Jarrett is a highlight, the bass on Yesterdays is absolutely silly when Peacock lets things go. He really makes this album his own. But talent only goes so far. (This is especially true when we’re talking jazz standards, as these tunes have been riffed on and ripped apart by every era’s greats.) What’s equally crucial is the emotionality with which these players play. They shred through “You Took Advantage of Me”, but also expand their ragtimey version to ten-minutes—it adds great, exploratory dynamic to a song that can become cheesy quickly. The Diz’n’Bird classic “Shaw’nuff” is basically strapped up to a jet propulsion engine and l-a-u-n-c-h-e-d… it takes the audience awhile to even catch up. And the ballads, welcome after joyrides like that, are played with patience and unwavering respect. They are spare, still, and stellar. After every song, you feel it’s been played the way it ought to be played, the way it must be played. That’s the truest value of this album: While Yesterdays doesn’t necessarily cover new ground for the trio, it exemplifies, again and again, what makes them great. Longtime followers won’t be let down; newcomers… dig in.

-Braying Mantis

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