La Fenice Keith Jarrett ECM This double album of 97 minutes was recorded live on July 19, 2006 at one of Venice’s classical music venues, Gran Teatro La Fenice, before an audience of 1100. Jarrett plays eight spontaneous improvisations (Parts I-VIII), with a structured composition interleaved after Part VI, The Sun Whose Rays, from Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado. The concert closes with three encores that are structured: the traditional My Wild Irish Rose, the Victor Young standard Stella By Starlight and one of Jarrett’s compositions, Blossom. The critical issue in free improvisation is how the performer juxtaposes two impulses: familiarity and abstraction. Some performers in this genre who reject the sounds of the past luxuriate in whatever music emerges in the moment, even if it sometimes resembles little more than noise. The great strength of Jarrett’s music is that, even when it is atonal or far-out, it always sounds eerily familiar. Jarrett’s ability to balance those two impulses has enabled him to achieve both critical acclaim and mass appeal. He cannot disguise the fact that he is the living embodiment of the jazz tradition.
The familiar signposts are everywhere: here is bebop, there is the jazz ballad; here are rich harmonic changes reminiscent of Bill Evans, there are simple passages as touching as Chick Corea’s children’s songs. Part VIII is blues. And so on. At other times, there are shimmering passages that might have been written by Ravel or Debussy.
Add two other major qualities of Jarrett’s artistry — his tender touch at the keyboard (he is never heavy-handed, even at fortissimo) and his unparalleled attention to dynamics (he knows when high energy needs to revert to stillness) — and you have a pianistic genius.