Monday, September 28, 2009


Okay, here we go - Day Two of my journey through the Impulse! recordings of the Keith Jarrett "American Quartet." Treasure Island was the first studio release on Impulse! by this band, and it featured a few guests: two percussionists (Danny Johnson and Guilherme Franco) and guitarist Sam Brown.

The first track, “The Rich (and the Poor),” is a bluesy ballad with tons of space in the mix for a thick Charlie Haden bass line and some very pretty piano and saxophone work. Jarrett sings a little, but only a little, and when the band gets all gospely around the six-and-a-half minute mark, it’s pretty hot. Not hot enough to justify the yelping and whooping heard in the background, but nice. What keeps jumping out at me about this song, though (and much of this album), is how astonishingly ’70s it is. It sounds like it should be playing over helicopter shots of one of New York’s outer borough neighborhoods, as the closing credits roll on a Norman Lear sitcom.

The callbacks to my childhood (I was born at the tail end of 1971) continue on “Blue Streak,” the piano line of which starts out in almost Vince Guaraldi territory – Guaraldi being best known, of course, for his theme music to various Charlie Brown cartoons. When Dewey Redman comes in, it gets a little more rugged, but given that it’s only two and a half minutes long and fades out, this feels like more soundtrack music. Oh, and there’s a really annoying percussion instrument in the background throughout – I don’t know what it’s called, but Airto Moreira used to use it a lot when he was with Miles Davis’s band. It sounds like a whining dog.

The ridiculously titled “Fullsuvolivus (Fools of All of Us)” is up next, a very energetic and surprisingly (within the context of this album) free eruption. It must be said that Jarrett is outclassed, in the aggression department, by both Redman and Haden, but he holds his own. The percussionists contribute rattles, whistling and hooting from the background, almost acting like a Greek chorus at times. This track kinda sticks out after the first two, but it’s pretty great.

The title cut is up next, and it’s another Super Sounds of the ’70s special. Redman absents himself, leaving Jarrett to duet with Sam Brown, and between the ultra-smooth guitar sound and the semi-soulful melody, this song could easily have gotten on the radio right in between Chuck Mangione and Steely Dan (again, the influence, particularly in the piano and guitar sound, is inescapable).

“Introduction/Yaqui Indian Folk Song” is very pretty. But it’s so short, and so focused on melody, I wonder why Redman felt the need to play anything at all on the track.

“Le Mistral” is the opposite, the longest track on the album and the funkiest. The group gets into a pretty heavy Latin groove, with lots of percussion (and even some gym-coach whistles in the background) over another thick-as-cooling-asphalt Haden bass line. He’s so huge in the mix on these albums, it really boggles my mind that in more recent years bass players have been turned down in the name of – what? Naturalism? Bah! Gimme big loud throbbing bass!

“Angles (Without Edges)” is another semi-free piece with almost no Redman until the very end – Haden takes a great solo, then Redman and Jarrett duet on reeds to take the track out, which is totally unexpected given everything that’s come before. You would think Redman would have at least taken part in stating the melody up front if he was gonna show up at the end, but it’s like a surprise walk-on at the end of a sitcom or something.

“Sister Fortune” closes the album with another radio-friendly exercise in soft-jazz-rock groove including tastefully stinging guitar from Brown, subtle Latin percussion and a nice beat Elton John could have sung over.

Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how utterly ’70s Treasure Island is. It’s got some really good moments, but at other times it’s so much like a time machine journey back to when I was growing up on Staten Island and in suburban New Jersey, watching reruns of All In The Family and Barney Miller and Taxi on TV after school, that it gives me laughing fits. This is some Schoolhouse Rock type stuff.

Tomorrow: Back Hand, the first of two albums from a single set of 1974 sessions.

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