Seeing the names Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden paired together on a new CD may cause some to become bug-eyed with excitement. It could be because these are already two very notable names in jazz and the sum of their musical experience is almost 100 years. Or it could be that Jarrett and Haden haven’t recorded with one another since 1976, when Haden was a member of Jarret’s quartet with Paul Motion and Dewey Redman. Whatever one’s reaction is, there should be universal agreement that these two are a seamless piano/bass match for one another and that 30-odd years is an awful long time to procrastinate on what feels like natural chemistry. But when Jarrett was invited to say a few words in a documentary about Charlie Haden, the two had a chance to catch up with one another. Impromptu jam sessions eventually led to 2007 recording sessions inside Jarrett’s home studio. And for all the big league status that a release like Jasmine can boast, it comes out very safe and unassuming. Here is an album that comes in neat, symmetrical blocks and never goes searching for an element of surprise. Instead, it transforms familiarity into something unexpectedly deep.
Both Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden have been in the music business for a very long time. Their careers have taken different routes over the years, and you can certainly make cases for Jarrett holding a second career as a classical musician and Haden as a folkie. But both men kept their feet firmly planted in jazz the entire time, which is probably what pointed their careers back to the starting point of American standards. The reunion of these two giants ends up being another celebration of the American songbook very similar to what Keith Jarrett was already doing with his trio featuring Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. If you’ve spent time listening to any of those releases lately, you’re more than halfway to fully embracing Jasmine.
ECM is a label that prides itself on superior sound quality, and this album is certainly no exception. Jarrett and Haden are pretty much playing right in your living room, not annoying your neighbors. Jasmine is one of those recordings so pristine that you can almost imagine Haden holding his bass with his eyes closed, plucking each note to perfectly match Jarrett’s chords, without a need to look at either his partner nor his fingers. Tracks like the opener, “For All We Know”, leave plenty of space inside the sound, signifying a powerful unity between the pianist and the bassist. What comes through to the listener is a deep understanding of the language of jazz standards and improvisational restraint. Even when the tempo picks up with “No Moon at All”, or “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life”, the interplay at work and the end result is more somber than trad-jazz nostalgia.
Listening to Jasmine is neither an intense nor boring experience. It sits firmly in a territory where risks are not expected, yet the rewards are more abstract than a typical “hey man, dig that piano scale” response. You come away from this veteran meeting feeling more like a participant than a third-party observer. Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden almost seem like that old married couple that, despite the lack of zest and fire in their relationship, can glance at one another and immediately know what the other is thinking. And the listener is right there in their living room having drinks with them.