Produced by Manfred Eicher
Label – ECM
First impressions would lead one to question why “The Köln Concert” remains the biggest selling solo live recording in jazz history. Indeed, there’s a small group of hardened aficionados of the genre who refuse to accept its validity, as it loosely entwines with classical and easy listening. That said, the album is an astonishing extended musical improvisation set, with Jarrett’s customary virtuosity breaking through all manner of handicaps along the way. The legacy of the record is that its genuine level of entertainment introduced a worldwide audience to buy into a style of music that would have been previously alien, proving that it must have been considerably more than word of mouth that lured the listener.
The 1400 capacity audience who attended the Köln Opera House on that wintry 24th January night would have been ignorant to the difficulties Jarrett was battling in order to deliver such a memorable event. Having driven the 360 miles (578km) from Zurich earlier in the day, the pianist was tired and suffering from chronic back problems which were only eased by a brace. Notably, the piano he had requested (a Bösendorfer grand) had not arrived. Apparently, organizers at the venue had earlier noticed that there was a Bösendorfer backstage. Unfortunately, and much to Jarrett’s chagrin, it was an out of condition rehearsal baby grand, with upper and lower scales that sounded dreadfully thin and tinny. In addition, the pedals didn’t work correctly. Frantic repairs and tuning were carried out, but Jarrett elected to perform his improvisation predominantly using the middle keys. Time constraints due to an earlier opera recital meant that the virtuoso finally arrived on stage at 11:30pm.
So polished is Jarrett’s creation it’s difficult to believe that Sheet music wasn’t used, as he carefully develops his spontaneous lines, shaping each section with sustained passages that adventurously grow with unerring fluidity. There’s exuberant groans from the performer as he joyously discovers a new progression, with much of the intensity built from compelling natural rhythm. There is a degree of repetition at times, which seems obvious given that Jarrett was using the middle section of the instrument, but these moments are brief and the catchy melodies hold the listener’s attention.
“The Köln Concert” is an open door of new discovery as, against the odds, Keith Jarrett’s verve and tenacity brightly shine through with a jubilant urgency that’s hard to resist.
1 – Part I (8)
2 – Part IIa (8)
3 – Part IIb (8)
4 – Part IIc (8)