Keith Jarret – The Köln Concert (1975)

It feels a bit sacrilegious trying to write about this album. What could I have to say which has somehow escaped forty one years of constant praise and sincere bewilderment at the staggering genius of it? In spite of this, I can’t help but try to at least join the choir of voices and minds which have expressed the tremendous feeling of having stood witness to an act which is normally reserved only for the musicians themselves – the genesis of music, right there. This is, after all, the most moving quality about jazz – the fact that it’s, at least theoretically, spontaneous. The artist creates such a connection with the instrument that he stops being the one playing and becomes the one being played. I believe Keith Jarret was recorded here during one of those absolutely spectacular moments and, while not being the first or the last recording in the world to have that privilege, it is the only one I can think of where the feeling of something miraculous happening as you listen is so poignant.

One hour of music which comes into being, incandescently, channeled by Jarret. One hour in which he seems nothing more than a conduit for the sounds to burst through, in which he ascends the soul of the old and busted up piano he ended up being forced to play for the concert. You see, the performance had a very troublesome start. It was organized by an 18 year old girl, the youngest event coordinator in Germany at the time. She had sent out an order for a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for Jarret but somehow things got screwed up and he ended up having to play an old Bösendorfer short-tail piano which had been used for years only as a rehearsal instrument. The thing took hours to tune, had very poor bass projection and the high notes didn’t sound right to anyone, least of all Jarret. And to top it off, his concert began at a very unusual hour – 23:30 at night, as it had been the only opening in the concert hall’s schedule. Now I’m not really sure if it was because of all this or in spite of it that Keith Jarret found the superhuman energy which shines through the entire performance.

All anecdotes aside, I have to say I’m not a connoisseur of Jarret’s discography, I haven’t gotten the chance and the energy to delve deeply into his entire musical output. I don’t even consider myself a connoisseur of jazz in general – all I can say is that I really appreciate this music sometimes, for the unbelievable authenticity it brings to the table, the somatic feeling of freedom it can transmit. That being said, I feel this album doesn’t fit under any sort of label. It’s not just jazz. It’s not just piano music. It’s not just live. It transcends all that, it’s somehow quintessential, in spite of the very human and mundane circumstances in which it transpired. One hour of spontaneous music in which no note is wrong, in which nothing is out of place, of a richness, power and complexity which rivals any of the great composers’ works, music so dynamic, so thoroughly enthralling that it seems to be the product of hundreds of hours of polish and toil, born fully armored from Jarret’s fingers, right there.

I can detect no hesitation on this record, no search for inspiration, for a vector in which to “take” the performance, as if things need to be pushed and nudged forward every once in a while to keep the music coming and the public’s interest peaked. There’s an exquisite, sacerdotal sense of isolation on the album, as if you’re somehow part of a religious mass, as if faith in its most ancient, primal aspect, that of communion with divinity, is somehow, suddenly and naturally, accessible to our jaded minds as we’re implicated in the mystery by the shaman’s trance. I don’t get the feeling Keith Jarret is playing for an audience. I don’t even get the feeling he’s playing for himself! He’s playing because he can’t not play, because it’s not his decision to refuse the access of such music into the world, since he’s there and able to act as a midwife. There’s a feeling of completeness, of impenetrable cohesion which is, from a certain perspective, a bit tyrannical if you think about it. As if the music gave him no other choice but perfection, just as my speakers as I listen to this have no choice but to reproduce the exact notes the recording holds.

“I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough”, huh? Well, ironically, this has absolutely nothing to do with losing (or finding, at that) religion. It has to do with something much more… essential… I found the entire concert, again, on the blessed YouTube. It’s a very intense experience, I’ll say that much, not to be mixed with a whole lot of activity. It’s a private, nocturnal thing, at least for me. You’ve heard my words, now, if you will, go listen to what really matters.

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