Sunday, February 14, 2010

88 Keys to the Kingdom

Jazz Review

Keith Jarrett, Solo Piano
Symphony Hall, Chicago
February 12, 2010

One man onstage with a piano, almost exclusively improvising for 2 hours might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world. And to be fair, it wasn't. But when the pianist is as imaginative and innovative as Keith Jarrett, it was nonetheless fascinating and never boring. And as Jarrett himself said in thanking the crowd for coming, "if you're just getting into me, it's not the easiest thing to do."

Before going to his performance at Symphony Hall on Friday night, other than in snippets on YouTube, I had never to my recollection heard Jarrett play before, whether on recordings or live. But having long heard him referenced as one of the great living jazz pianists, he seemed like someone I should know more about.

From reading a bit about him in various brief biographies, I learned that he has played in many styles, including classical and in a jazz combo with bass and drums. But a large part of his renown comes from his solo improvisational performances, such as the one on Friday night.

Certainly, he left no doubt about the extent of his talent, as he played many types of pieces all across the piano, and seemingly can do just about anything he imagines with 88 keys. It was a good introduction and I'm glad I went, but I think I might prefer him playing off of others in a combo, or playing more actual compositions as he did toward the end of the performance.

Also technically and sonically impressive, there was something a bit cold in some of this improvisations, at least to this first-timer (the crowd loved him and he played at least 5 encores, including his famed rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow). Although my vocabulary of legendary jazz pianists--especially among those I've seen live--is rather limited, Jarrett's playing and performance wasn't as expressive and inspiring as McCoy Tyner, my primary point of comparison.

So while I liked but didn't absolutely love the performance, it was still entirely worthwhile. Although one disappointing side note is that the CSO's fine Symphony Store is now closed, except for some tables of merchandise they sell before CSO performances only. Of all the cultural gift shops I've been to, The Symphony Store was one of the very best, with lots of unique items I never came across elsewhere. I particularly liked their bass-shaped (the instrument not the fish) mirror and imagined I would buy it one day when my funds were robust. I don't know why the store went out of business, but I'm sad that it's gone.

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