A remarkable trio etched in jazz history return with their first album in 10 years. Jack DeJohnette above left Gary Peacock and Keith Jarrett
The story began in 1983 in New York. Spending less than two days in the studio with enough material for three albums a remarkable trio would emerge. Unfashionable then, and still, standards, the test, default, the familiar, the meat and drink of jazz everywhere were the subject, and on Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette’s first album, ‘Meaning of the Blues’, ‘All the Things You Are’, ‘It Never Entered My Mind’, ‘The Masquerade Is Over’ and ‘God Bless The Child’ ended up included. Bobby Troup’s ‘Meaning of the Blues’, a song Miles Davis had recorded for Miles Ahead in 1957, was a hint of a thread that would run through the trio’s DNA; Jarrett and DeJohnette’s much revered bandleader and inspiration would be memorialised much later on the album Bye Bye Blackbird recorded a few weeks after the great trumpeter’s death in 1991.
A little under 20 years on from their initial coming together, and what would be their 19th album together, this time recording live in the south of France in 2002, the trio made their last album until now, Up For It. Standards jostled with unbridled free improvising a considerable factor in the trio’s success and why the Standards Trio had long since moved to a new level. Seven years later in July 2009 at the Royal Festival Hall after more than a quarter of a century together the trio had that certain air of invincibility about it, with Jarrett the matador, the beaming Gary Peacock and intense Jack DeJohnette the picadors. The concert had opened with ‘Tonight’, which at the Festival Hall had a carefully dramatised feel to it, and the second half of the concert was a time for pure rhapsody.
So now after one of the longest breaks in jazz recorded history by a longstanding group Somewhere, recorded during the same month as the Festival Hall concert, arrives later this month. The trio has reset jazz history along the way. Standards Vol 1, Standards Vol 2, Changes, the three initial statements of intent from which everything else would follow; Standards Live, Still Live, Changeless, Standards in Norway, Tribute, The Cure, Bye Bye Blackbird, the 6-CD box set Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note, Tokyo ’96, Whisper Not, Inside Out, Yesterdays, Always Let Me Go, My Foolish Heart, The Out-of-Towners, and Up For It have taken the trio all around the world and add up to a chronicle of one of the greatest of all trios, following in the footsteps of Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans.
Ted Gioia, interviewed on the JazzWax website and who has written a book on standards says: “Songbook standards refer to the best popular songs from the Golden Age of American songwriting, which started in the 1920s and ran out of steam in the late-1950s and early-1960s.” So, by this yardstick, Jarrett is exploring a disappeared landscape by the time the trio turned to it. The benign hegemony of the Great American Songbook in a global context, particularly at the progressive European end, is no more. An ‘empire’ of song has crumbled, and only the beautiful ruins remain, the inspiration above all that Jarrett knows and draws on.
The new album and its tracks the 15-minute, part-Milesian exploration ‘Deep Space / Solar’, followed by ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’, Harold Arlen’s ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’, ‘Somewhere Everywhere’, with its exploration of West Side Story continued by ‘Tonight’, the latter with its up tempo zip and trademark ecstatic cries, and then finally Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Mercer’s ‘I Thought About You’ are awaited as you’d guess after this gap with some considerable interest. Recorded in the beautiful Swiss lakeside city of Lucerne in July 2009, at the city’s Jean Nouvel-designed concert hall overlooking Lake Lucerne, the trio could not have found itself in a better space in which to perform and respond. To borrow the name of a much earlier Jarrett album it’s all about somewhere before, and beyond. Stephen Graham
Somewhere is released on Monday 27 May. Photos: Daniela Yohannes/ECM
Return of the sax: Soweto Kinch’s beloved vintage 1963 Selmer Mk 6 alto saxophone stolen in north London in late-April is back where it belongs: with Soweto. The saxophonist broke the news on Twitter earlier: “I left a load of posters in the local area. Someone responded to appeal, returned it to a shop and took the cash reward." Reacting further to the saxophone’s return and clearly relieved he added later: “After three agonising weeks, I finally managed to recover my baby from the area! She’s never leaving my sight again." MB
ACS (Geri Allen above left Terri Lyne Carrington,
and Esperanza Spalding)
David Sanborn and Bob James with Zoe Rahman in support, the supergroup of ACS (Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding) at the Barbican; a tribute to Abram Wilson, and Ketil Bjørnstad: The Story of Edvard Munch in the Purcell Room; plus Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard at the Wigmore Hall, are some of the latest shows confirmed for November’s EFG London Jazz Festival, with tickets on sale tomorrow apart from the Bley concert (on sale from 31 May). More bookings for the 21st anniversary running of the festival are to be announced in June, with the club programme, education strands, and free entry events to be unveiled. www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk
All Your Life is guitar great Al Di Meola’s latest acoustic-oriented album released on this occasion for download only in the UK. But last week on social media sites Di Meola shed more light on the question of format: “The physical CD is available only at this moment at the shows and we are diligently working to get this also available worldwide in the few remaining stores.” Taking the music of The Beatles as its theme the album was recorded at Abbey Road appropriately enough and Di Meola returns to London once again next month to play at the home of jazz in the UK, Ronnie Scott’s. Tracks are ‘In My Life’, ‘And I Love Her’, ‘Because’, ‘Michelle’, ‘I Will’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘I Am the Walrus’, ‘Day in the Life’, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’, ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, ‘If I Fell’, and ‘She’s Leaving Home’.
With music composed to interpret the poetry of Sara Teasdale, Emily Brontë, Wallace Stevens, and above all Emily Dickinson, Susanne Abbuehl has retreated from the world to paradoxically embrace it on The Gift.
As part of this process the Swiss/Dutch singer has changed her band, with only pianist Wolfert Brederode remaining from earlier albums April and Compass. Drummer Olavi Louhivuori, now in Oddarrang, who appeared to wider notice on Tomasz Stańko’s Dark Eyes is an apposite choice here, although his role within the chamber-jazz settings means he must remain subtle, as it’s an album that values space, a sense of longing, an exiling of overt rhythm, and the pleasures of the aftermath of a single note of music. For Susanne Abbuehl the singer herself was drawn specifically to poems from the 19th century, as she explains in this interview, and a new clarity that she needed, and desired, to compose herself.
Brad Mehldau, setting Sara Teasdale poetry to music on his album Love Songs with Anne Sofie von Otter, has commented “the conviction of her words really rang through to me. I feel like these poems are singularly, vitally female, and that seemed so right for the female voice.” Would you agree, and if so why?
Not sure. I never think of poems of being female or male. I chose Sara Teasdale’s words because they spoke to me, because they sounded like music, like songs, because they conjured strong feelings. I never thought of them in the way Brad describes it. I am a little ashamed, too, now, to say that I was completely unaware of Brad setting Teasdale’s poems to music, even though I know his music of course and met him; and also, Sofie von Otter is one of the singers I love listening to (I know and enjoy her Weill record for example).
What fundamentally attracted you to the poetry of Sara Teasdale and specifically her poems ‘The Cloud’ and ‘By Day, By Night’?
‘The Cloud’ is my very favourite poem by her. Whenever I start getting attracted to a poet, I try to get a hold and read his or her entire body of work. And usually, only a handful of poems speak so strongly to me that I feel the need to sing them. Both those poems had this immediacy to them. In ‘The Cloud’, there’s a strong image of the natural world and of movement. Also, a wild, untamed, free feeling. In ‘By Day, By Night’ (whose original title is ‘After Parting’) I just loved this bittersweet feeling of strength after a loss.
How would you explain the enduring appeal of Emily Dickinson whose poetry forms the bulk of the textual basis of the album?
I think her poems address a part of our being, of our longing, that cannot even be put into words. I love the recurrent theme of the natural world; bees, clover, fields. Also, I think it is inspiring to know that she produced a huge body of work even though she did not know fame during her lifetime. Only very few of her poems were published. I really love her letters, too. One of my favourite lines from on of her letters is “The moon rides like a girl through a Topaz town”. That’s how I’d love to sing.
Is The Gift an album about a retreat from the world, or conversely an embracing of it?
It is both, really! It is by feeling and connecting to what one might call the core, that embracing and taking in the outside becomes possible. For me, The Gift is also about very deep layers of memory, experienced in childhood: physical memories, memories of the senses, of being in the woods, on the lake, in the mountains.
Why did you feel the need to change your group for this new project?
I had met Olavi in 2007 in Helsinki, where he played with us at a festival. It was then that I decided that it would be with him if I was to record again. Matthieu and I both teach at the music university in Lausanne. I just felt like singing with him, so I asked him if we could try some of my compositions. We met to rehearse, and after 15 minutes it was clear that it would work. Wolfert, Matthieu and I started playing as a trio in 2010, and we all felt good about it.
The musical conversation between Wolfert Brederode and you seems very intuitive. What would you say are the aspects of his playing that appeal to you most; and how does he manage to get beyond the arc of the songs? For instance, is it a particular rhythmic sensibility?
In our best moments, the interaction feels telepathic. We share a lot of the same sea of references, from jazz, but also from classical music. We both have a strong background in jazz, then went on and tried to find our musical language. I think one of the most important aspects of his playing to me is that he does not sound like anyone else. He can create from an idea thrown at him, he can create a mood from an abstract image. Then, I like his sense of dynamics and the sound he gets out of the instrument. In my group, I want people who are able to create an exclusive way of playing for that particular group – who don’t just do what they always do. Wolfert did just that.
We sometimes play duo concerts, too, and I always feel carried and lifted by him. Manfred Eicher [who produced the album] immediately loved his playing when we recorded April, and Wolfert later was able to record for ECM as a leader, too.
You’re quoted as saying that Olavi Louhivuori has "an affinity for the voice". How do you detect this in his playing and could you indicate a few examples on The Gift?
He is very specific with frequencies. He chooses a specific instrumentation for each song, a different set of sounds. In ‘Forbidden Fruit’, his low register playing combines wonderfully with the frequencies of the voice. And in the two versions of ‘This And My Heart’ (the first one being the ‘Day’ version, the second one the ‘Night’ version) he plays a very circular deep groove that lifts voice and flugelhorn. He is a composer himself, leads his own groups, and knows compositions by heart very quickly. He’s a drummer with full view of the entire group.
When you moved to Los Angeles from Switzerland as a teenager did you come to a point that you knew your future musical direction by this sharp new world you encountered; or did that come later in India when you studied there, or another time entirely?
Well, in Los Angeles I shifted from instrumental classical music (I had played the harpsichord, baroque music as a child) to vocal jazz. I was part of the jazz ensemble at high school, and we toured the US and Canada. That is where I became familiar with the Great American Songbook. I had listened to jazz as a child, because my father was a fan of Duke Ellington, Ella, Louis Armstrong. But it was in a passive way. I actively got into it when I was in the US. When I returned to Switzerland, I started to actively prepare for professional jazz studies.
There is less reliance on jazz composers on this album and more on your own compositions. What prompted your decision to dig deeper within your own work for The Gift?
This was not so much a conscious decision but a natural development. Whenever I brought in new compositions, the band loved playing them. I felt encouraged by that. For The Gift, I was drawn to poems from the 19th century, and it was somehow clear from the start that I needed and wanted to compose myself. I also was encouraged a lot by Manfred Eicher who kept commenting positively on my own music.
When you were taught by Jeanne Lee, what fire did she ignite within you to further your attitude towards performance and composition? Can you recall your first impression of her?
I first discovered her music when I worked in a record store. Later, I met her at the Willisau festival, backstage, and again in Amsterdam, with Reggie Workman’s group, before she became my teacher. I wrote about meeting her on my blog (www.susanneabbuehl.com). I love EVERYTHING she did, and I can only say this about a few other artists. So when my favourite voice in jazz became my teacher, it was a real blessing. What struck me maybe most was that in her art, words, music and dance were all important parts of a whole. I loved her sense of the musicality of language. And she composed in a very personal way. But she showed me also that a singer can be just as personal when singing material that was written by someone else as when singing own compositions.
How do you relate to the idea of ‘jazz singing’? Is it a concept that has changed since you began your career; or has it always been a flexible notion?
Well, jazz is my musical home, my harbour. I listened extensively to most of the singers in the history of jazz, and I appreciate so many for so many different reasons. I have a sea of references from listening, and this means a lot to me. During my studies, I sang standards a lot, and I learnt so much from it. My idea of jazz singing for myself is that by touching and modelling musical material in my own way I can show my personal approach.
Photo: Andrea Loux / ECM
Just confirmed Wynton Marsalis is to return to Ronnie Scott’s for three nights of quintet shows in July. With two houses each night it’s six shows in all from 22-24 July with the trumpeter joined by saxophonist/clarinettist Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and drummer Ali Jackson.
Tickets go on general sale on 22 May. www.ronniescotts.co.uk