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Live Review: Keith Jarrett at Disney Hall

March 16, 2010 | 11:55 am


Always a keen observer of audience habits, to put it mildly, a chatty Keith Jarrett couldn’t resist telling a packed Disney Hall that he'd noticed a pattern among jazz crowds lately.

“I remember lines of people waiting to see the new thing,” he said playfully from a lone spotlighted microphone stand opposite his piano. “Now, there are lines of people waiting to see old things.”

Of course, when the “old thing” in question is the 64-year-old Jarrett, it’s understood that this habit can be forgiven. Because, even after so many years, how does one begin to unpack what exactly this unique piano wizard can do in concert? The second stop in a three-city tour of solo piano performances, Jarrett delivered an evening of at times brief but occasionally exhilarating improvisations that drew from a limitless musical vocabulary gained in 45 years of performing.

Jarrett’s gift for making an in-the-moment creation sound lyrical, even welcomingly familiar, has been one of the hallmarks of his career since 1975’s lauded live double-album “The Köln Concert.” While this night’s performance didn’t try to replicate that recording’s sprawling long-form excursions, it frequently revisited its  same anthemic drive.

After a stern introduction from Disney Hall’s public address system, warning against cameras, recording devices and, well, coughing, Jarrett began his performance with an uncharacteristically atonal exploration, his long hands darting between low and high notes on the keyboard like excitable birds looking for a secure place to land. Pushing the song through a variety of detours, Jarrett continued his usual habit of half-standing, off-time foot tapping and grunting along with his playing, each a seemingly unconscious attempt to physically will the song into shape.

Later compositions touched on a wide variety of genres and moods, recalling a wistful piano ballad tailor-made for a smoky nightclub one moment, or an evocatively twilit classical piece the next.

It’s a testament to the odd sort of magic that Jarrett is capable of that any of his improvisations can reference sounds and structures from the past, yet never overtly become anything other than new, even as the audience feels strangely capable of humming along. On one piece, Jarrett opened with roiling chords that played off his stomping foot, and then drove straight into a sort of swampy gospel-blues territory, complete with his non-verbal bluesman growl, while a later improvisation in the second set was such a perfect encapsulation of traditional ragtime swing that it could’ve been a long-lost standard.

Given that this was Keith Jarrett, the ever-sensitive pianist couldn’t resist taking time to admonish some audience members, calling out the usual smattering of nervous coughing one moment, and he nearly went into the crowd after an over-zealous amateur photographer took a picture of him as he walked off the stage between encores. “You should apologize to yourself,” he scolded when he returned, and sat down at the piano for a glistening reworking of “Over the Rainbow.”

Yet for the most part, the crowd was well-behaved, and in fact eager to please its mercurial guest. After one melancholy piece concluded without so much as a peep from the room’s hair-trigger acoustics, one audience member proudly yelled to Jarrett that nobody had coughed this time.

“What’s that?” Jarrett asked with a smirk, but there was no response. “He doesn’t want to say it again. I don’t like repeating myself either.”

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Keith Jarrett in concert at Royce Hall in 2008. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times