Keith Jarrett / Dennis Russell Davies / Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra

Barber: Piano Concerto; Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3; Keith Jarrett: Tokyo Encore

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Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett planned a major engagement with classical music in the early 1980s. His plans were cut short by a skiing accident and later by struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome, but this ECM release, marking Jarrett's 70th birthday and capturing a pair of performances from Saarbrücken, West Germany, and Tokyo in 1984 and 1985, respectively, suggests what might have been. Both performances were rapturously received in countries where audiences tend toward the undemonstrative, and it is not just Jarrett's rock-solid fan base that was responsible. The program itself represents Jarrett's most inspired choice. He avoids the obvious jazz-flavored choices like Gershwin but instead, as Paul Griffiths put it in his superb notes (worth the price of admission by themselves), "works in which the jazz presence is more subtle, part of the background against which the music is taking place." In the Piano Concerto, Op. 38, of Samuel Barber, a dense and technically treacherous work of the composer's later years, Jarrett manages his characteristically liquid tone in the difficult outer movements as he makes his way through a work in which, to quote Griffiths once again, "post-Romanticism and post-serialism ... encounter one another on common ground." The Bartók, recorded in Japan, is perhaps less distinctive, but it remains a solid accomplishment with none of the careful academicism that sometimes attends the work of jazz artists who cross over to the classical sphere. The program concludes with an improvised encore, pure Jarrett, that the pianist played at the Japan concert, and all in all the listener will be tempted to join in with the lengthy applause. Live sound is not ECM's specialty, but the analog recordings transmit what happened with reasonable fidelity. A must for Jarrett fans.

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