Music

'After the Fall' Chronicles Keith Jarrett's Late '90s Return to the Stage

As jazz pianist Keith Jarrett recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome, he recorded this live set of bebop tracks that are first now seeing the light of day.

After the Fall
Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette

ECM

2 Mar 2018

In 1999, pianist Keith Jarrett recorded and released a quiet album of jazz standards named The Melody at Night With You. It was recorded during his recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome.

More recently, Jarrett released a box set of 20-year-old material that he recorded in concert just before he fell ill called A Multitude of Angels. These two releases served as appropriate bookends to the whole ordeal. Angels was the sound of Jarrett testing his physical and mental stamina with a series of improvised solo concerts that found him digging deeper and deeper into his melodic and harmonic wells. Melody was low-key, recorded at home, and consisted of all covers.

Now a third release is thrown into the story. Jarrett's standards trio, with Gary Peacock on double bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, decided to put on a show in Newark, New Jersey in November, 1998 -- right in the middle of the pianist's slow recovery. Some doctors might refer to this move as foolish, while Jarrett himself continually calls it an "experiment" in the liner notes of After the Fall. And as far as experiments go, this one fared just fine. The trio pulled off a well-received 12-song set spanning almost more than 100 minutes inside a venue was equipped with a DAT machine to capture it all. Almost 20 years later, ECM has released After the Fall, an album that has no problem fitting into the thick legacy of Keith Jarrett's standards trio.

It was Jarrett's choice to play mostly bebop material that night, which on the surface, sounds absolutely nuts at first. Aren't you supposed to take it easy after a bout of C.F.S.? "[A]lthough it required great technique, I didn't think I needed to play as hard as I often did," he rationalizes in the liner notes. It seems reasonable to imagine a staple like "Autumn Leaves" getting a light touch, as the trio does at the close of the first disc. There's also Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple", John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice", Bud Powell's "Bouncin' with Bud", Paul Desmond's "Late Lament", Sonny Rollins's "Doxy", and, since it was November, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". At the other end of the spectrum are the comparatively more easygoing numbers "Old Folks", "I'll See You Again", "Late Lament" and "When I Fall in Love". As is the case with many of the in concert recordings created by Jarrett and his standards trio, they can do justice to all slices of the genre. Every note is given the same convincing weight, whether it be hard bop or a pensive ballad.

Although Jarrett may be equipped with his characteristic focus on After the Fall, it's clear that the driving energy has been dialed down a few notches. He still cares deeply about these old melodies and he still impulsively groans along with his playing, but these twelve tunes never exactly kick into high gear. This is, of course, to be expected. Keith Jarrett was still on the road to recovery and Gary Peacock was about to face his own health problems just five or six years later. Still, a muted form of energy is better than no energy at all, and I don't think anyone has ever accused Jarrett's standards trio of phoning it in. Starting number "The Masquerade Is Over" jumps into the post-bop end with both feet, complete with dense harmonies and a perplexing groove from Jack DeJohnette. The touch applied to "Scrapple from the Apple" is so light that you can be forgiven for not noticing its hard bop origins.

Like I said, Jarrett goes out of his way to call this particular concert an "experiment". Therefore, you can't very well hold it up against The Köln Concert and come out satisfied. After the Fall needs to be measured against a different yardstick, one that takes Jarrett's C.F.S. into account as well as the fact that none of these gentlemen are spring chickens. All things considered, this double album is a modest success that, along with A Multitude of Angels, fills in the gaps of Jarrett's late '90s career. Why these things sit around in boxes for 20 years, I don't know, but at least they're seeing the light of day.

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