Many people who aren’t necessarily jazz lovers per se are Keith Jarrett lovers. Or if not lovers of his entire oeuvre, then certainly own this album. I’ll quote here from Wikipedia:
“The double-vinyl album was released in the autumn of 1975 by the ECM Records label to critical acclaim and went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album, with sales of more than 3.5 million.”
How does a solo piano album rack up so many sales? Great jazz albums come and go and are lucky to see a third of those sales. I think you must to some extent consider the era. Musically, nineteen-seventy-five was more or less an extension of the ’60’s.
Sure there was punk and disco was on its way. But the oldest of the baby boomers were by now pushing thirty and so were not necessarily into balls-out rock and roll concerts, at least not exclusively. And Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and others had paved the way for the fusion of rock and jazz.
And so back then, jazz was still very much a popular sound that you could hear on the radio. Steely Dan‘s stuff was very jazz-based and they used to play Aja on the radio all the time. Jazz is obviously very much still around but I would argue that the ’70’s were the last big flourish of anything close to widespread popularity.
None of which explains why this particular album became so popular. It is very much NOT fusion. But it at least explains the “anything goes” nature of what was being listened to. A twenty-six minute piano solo? Why not?
Jarrett has actually done other solo piano albums and he would probably be the first to say that this is neither the greatest nor least of his works. In fact, any jazz artist will tell you that the best music they made was probably last night at the club.
So why do I feature this particular one? I guess because not only is it one of my favorite albums but also because it was my first real introduction to long-form solo piano. It’s also significant in that the house in Köln, Germany where Jarrett played, gave him a shitty, out-of-tune baby grand piano that limited his capabilities.
He somehow managed to overcome its limitations, playing mostly in the mid-register to avoid the shrillness of the higher keys. (Jarrett is known for demanding absolute quiet. We saw him around this time at Symphony Hall Boston. If there is any noise from the audience, he stops and puts his hands on his lap till it quells.)
AllMusic says that “With all the tedium surrounding jazz-rock fusion, the complete absence on these shores of neo-trad anything, and the hopelessly angry gyrations of the avant-garde, Jarrett brought quiet and lyricism to revolutionary improvisation.” Unfortunately, he goes on to say that a lot of guys bought it because “the chicks dig it.” Speak for yourself, pal. I bought it because it’s great, end of story. So did a lot of people I personally know.
Anyway, I’ll shut up here and let the music speak for itself. If the idea of listening to solo piano sounds boring or daunting, put this on while you’re working on something. (I find jazz and classical great for writing.) Let it sort of wash over you and set the mood. I’m not a piano player so I have almost no appreciation of what it would take to play like this. But I do play guitar and I doubt that – minus setting my guitar or hair on fire – I could hold your attention for that long:
Some jazz aficionados think that that this is more pop than jazz, perhaps due to its not being as harmonically challenging as jazz typically is or even as much as Jarrett’s other works. Well, maybe. But that also, to me, sounds like, “How can it be jazz if it’s popular? We are the elite jazz listeners and so the masses can’t possibly appreciate it.” Well, too bad for them if they don’t listen to it. Because regardless of how you label it, it’s a great piece of work.