KEITH JARRETT The Köln Concert (ECM)


Another album that stakes a claim as one of jazz’s best sellers, “The Köln Concert” documents just over an hour’s worth of interaction between a sleep-derived Keith Jarrett and a substandard piano at the Cologne Opera House on 24 January 1975.


The obvious devil’s advocate caveat is to question how much of this music was actually, genuinely improvised on the night. The smaller the ensemble the easier it becomes to allege that the entire programme was conceived and rehearsed beforehand. Nevertheless, the way Jarrett teases new possibilities out of melodies, spraying droplets of rhythm round about, is pretty impressive. He does wrestle a whole opera of emotions from his keyboard, by turns mournful and exultant. There are moments when it’s not so much a musical performance as a terrifyingly compulsive high wire act: he’ll launch into some dizzying flight of pianoforte fancy leaving the listener fearing some kind of almighty tumble is imminent and inevitable, yet he never slips. Perhaps the album’s at its best on the evocatively titled “Köln, January 24, 1975 Part IIc”; at seven compact, concentrated, flowing and melodic minutes it’s as close as it gets to a single. As much as “The Köln Concert” can be compared with anything, the closest match for me would be the soundtrack to “The Piano”, although Jarrett’s spontaneous creations are continent-straddling beasties compared with Michael Nyman’s lightly sketched clipped-wing miniatures.


On the other hand, though, Jarrett frequently sounds a little too pleased with himself, whether singing along with his improvisations or grunting and moaning in an effusively self-congratulatory fashion.  He’s not exactly shy of basking in the audience’s adulation, either, with several of the album’s 67 minutes taken up by applause. There are also infrequent moments when proceedings become a little too intense, verging on ugly, not diminished by the clangourous clank that sickly piano emits when pushed too close to the edge. Still, being an ECM release it sounds marvellous, even at its most traumatic.