Thursday, October 01, 2009


We’re now into the second half of this journey through Keith Jarrett’s ’70s Impulse! albums. Only three to go after this one. Shall we?

Shades is another four-song disc, two per vinyl side, recorded in 1975 along with its follow-up, Mysteries. It begins with the semi-title track, “Shades of Jazz,” a fast 10-minute number on which Jarrett and Dewey Redman state the melody, whereupon the saxophonist does a fast fade, leaving the music in the hands of the core trio. And you know what that means – plenty of Jarrett humming and buzzing as he dances on the keys. The piano playing is excellent, but that damn dragonfly just won’t leave the studio. In any case, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian set up a powerful groove that swings so hard it’s almost dance music. Redman reappears just after the halfway mark, and tears into a solo that sends the whole thing rocketing skyward. There’s some free/avant-garde skronk to his solo, but for the most part it’s very bluesy, almost reminding me of John Coltrane’s 1950s Prestige recordings, and the rhythm section kicks it out as furiously behind him as they did behind Jarrett. This is a red-hot track, and a great start to the album.

The second track, “Southern Smiles,” is similar in structure, but in execution it’s less headlong and more relaxed and groovin’ than “Shades of Jazz,” as its title might indicate.

The disc’s second half begins with “Rose Petals,” a free ballad reminiscent of late Coltrane both in the way that Motian is all over the kit, Rashied Ali style, and in the way Redman launches straight from the melody into a wide-ranging, tonally exploratory and yet also quite introspective solo. When Jarrett takes over the spotlight, he’s subdued to a nearly cocktail-lounge degree, and Motian immediately settles down, switching to brushes and effectively turning it into a whole different song. At about the six-minute mark (of a nine-minute piece), Haden gets his first solo of the album, and he keeps it super-spare, letting each note ring out as the microphone captures every slide of his fingers up and down the strings and Motian and Jarrett support him with chimes and delicate, almost classical piano. The momentum and energy build very gradually, and everybody, Redman included comes together to take the piece out at a slow but intense burn, with Motian returning to free time as things wind up.

“Diatribe,” which closes the album, is sort of a combination of everything that’s come before. The melody is winding and herky-jerky at once, like a circus fanfare, but the band gets very free immediately after the initial statement, with Haden switching between rapid, forceful plucking and fierce work with the bow, as Motian and Jarrett tear it up on either side of him. Jarrett in particular is really pounding away, heading almost into Cecil Taylor territory. Redman’s solo is a festival of growl and skronk, basically prefiguring Charles Gayle, and there’s both drumming and other percussion behind him, making for a ferocious overall attack that reminds me of the title track from Archie Shepp’s The Magic Of Ju-Ju, where he rips and roars for something like 20 minutes over a never-ending stream of rhythm. Jarrett has another go at the keyboard at around the six-minute mark, thundering on the far left side in a way that’ll bounce you out of your chair if you’ve got big enough speakers. But rather than convulse and carom all the way to the end, they bring it home traditionally, returning to the melody and letting a few reverbed notes from Haden’s bass be the final sounds heard.

This is an excellent record, possibly my favorite of the run. It’s definitely the farthest out I’ve heard the group go so far (I don't think most people would even ID "Diatribe" as a Jarrett track if you played it for them cold), and it’s making me really look forward to Mysteries, four more tracks also recorded in 1975. But we’ll get into that tomorrow.

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