Listening to improvised music is no a passive act; it’s a creative process. This principle is especially true of the totally improvised work of Keith Jarrett, such as his 30-year series of solo concerts and his two most recent trio recordings, Inside Out and Always Let Me Go. Jarrett’s inventive impulses are of a kind that allow us to follow. He places us on the leading edge of the moment in which choices are made, inviting our participation in decisions taken from infinite options.
For example, his new double CD, Always Let Me Go, opens with 32 minutes called “Hearts In Space,” a wildly asymmetrical, spontaneous suite. It starts with exploratory gestures from all three players as they grasp for connections and beginnings. It is not until 8 1/2 minutes in that three separate but equal strands of intelligence arrive at edges of a single coalescing pattern, suggested by Jarrett’s insistent circular figure, but Peacock takes over at 11:30 and alters it. Jarrett and Peacock dance in a loose, rarefied call-and-response, sometimes touching Jarrett’s circular theme. Then around 15:30, DeJohnette pushes to the forefront and rains new accents that cause Jarrett to veer and find a poignant ballad in this complex progress. By the 23rd minute, the velocity has subtly escalated and soon we are sweeping forward in an effortless momentum that might stream forever but Jarrett allows it to disassemble into the disparate energies with which the piece began and the song subsides back to silence.
Music this free requires faith and inspiration from the listener, and it also makes value judgments even more than customarily subjective. Inside Out (ECM, recorded in concert in London in July 2000) was the first totally improvised album in many years by Jarrett’s standards trio. A single CD, it didn’t contain space for complete performances, and its huge evolving trio structures are sometimes aborted by fades.
But on Always Let Me Go, recorded mostly live in Tokyo in April 2001, and one of Jarrett’s major achievements on record, we’re able to hear pieces like “Hearts In Space” and the 34 1/2 minute “Waves” round into form as whole long arcs. The fact that this wholeness is always in jeopardy—that it abides by no rules but its own, and that we feel like we discover it in the same moment as the trio—is what makes it exciting and fulfilling.
Always Let Me Go sustains a heightened sense of imaginative focus through its sudden shifts, peaks and valleys, the exquisitely realized songs within songs that the trio comes upon—a crystalline 3 1/2 minute miniature emergence from silence of “Tributaries,” the melodic grace of “Waves”—and the dramatic swings of its dynamic scope. In its 20th year, this trio keeps growing in its ability to challenge the creativity of its listeners.
Always Let Me Go: Disc 1—Hearts In Space; The River; Tributaries; Paradox. (61:06) Disc 2—Waves; Facing East; Tsunami; Relay. (76:22)
Personnel: Keith Jarrett, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums.