Keith Jarrett – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Just when you think you can't take another evening of nervous promoters repeatedly warning audiences not to cough, fidget or snap a picture for fear the superstar might storm off stage, Keith Jarrett presents another sublime case for his enduring genius as a piano improviser – and you're back in that seductive old sadomasochistic relationship with him again. Jarrett's Canute-like obsession with stopping a modern audience from using camera-phones, or his opinions on the voluntary nature of coughing, can establish such a distracting atmosphere of anxiety in a concert crowd that a lesser artist would never be able to dispel it by playing. But his unaccompanied Royal Festival Hall performance was comparable to his recent Rio de Janeiro triumph for variety, spontaneity, and heartstopping delicacy – as well as a growing warmth, not only in the music, but in some unexpectedly genial conversation with his listeners.

A tumult of loose improvisation opened the show, followed by a slow theme with a flamenco-like kick that built into a torrent of fast, ascending runs; Jarrett crouched and muttered, stamping his feet. He then joshed with the audience about what to play next, went off stage for some cold-cure, and returned with a hypnotically rolling trill like a bowed double-bass, buoying up a delicate ballad motif. A stomping boogie, and a return to free improv – fuller and more opulent now – closed the set. In the second half, Jarrett played a porous, ethereal piece with a contemporary-classical feel but a distantly rocking groove. He then launched and abandoned a township-jazz hook, and improvised a dazzling, long-lined version of Summertime over a driving left-hand pulse.

For the first of four encores, he returned to the South African feel, played Miss Otis Regrets in a spinetingling murmur, gave us a fast blues and ended with a glistening ballad. All he said after that was "Thank you", but it sounded as if he meant it.

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John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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