Jazz review, Keith Jarrett, Royal Festival Hall, London

Royal Festival Hall, London

Keith Jarrett's first solo concert in London for 17 years triggered the sort of ecstasy that might greet a returning prophet. The words "I love you, Keith" were audible amid the roar that followed his arrival, yelled in a deep male voice, while "You're a genius" could be picked out in the roar at the end.

Both exclamations made Jarrett chuckle. The pianist played two improvised sets with the familiar mixture of orgasmic gasps, contorted stoopings, writhings and leaps off his stool that suggest he probably finds these remarks perfectly reasonable. But if he can seem like an ego run riot, the truth is that Jarrett cares only about music; the mannerisms are simply the proof of his passion. Arriving at the spotlit Steinway carrying nothing but a towel, Jarrett let whim, experience and encyclopaedic music knowledge carry him away. He wants only to inhabit - totally - the passing musical moment, and to take his audience (if necessary, under withering instructions not to snap his picture or even cough) to the same place.

This wasn't quite as furiously driven a solo gig as Jarrett's recent Carnegie Hall recording, but it bubbled with ideas and grabbed your attention. The opening sonorous chords and inquisitive treble figures gave way to an abstract groover accompanied by foot-stamping. A rhapsodic gospel song turned to a whirl of quietly lapping high sounds (interrupted by a stern cough lecture), a Cecil Taylor-like improv tumult, then a haunting jazz ballad. The second half included a seamlessly dazzling reappraisal of bebop's mazy melodic shapes, more ballads, and a gospel summons that would have sent the audience to church if the maestro had offered directions. Irritations notwithstanding, that old Jarrett magic forges majestically on.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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