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Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette - Up For It

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Artist: Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette

Album: Up For It

Label: ECM

Review date: Jun. 22, 2003

Almost Up For It

In celebration of their 20th year collaborating, the legendary Keith Jarrett trio (Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette) reach back into the book of standards with their release Up For It, recorded live in July of 2002 at Juan-les Pins, France. The trio’s previous two efforts, Inside Out and Always Let Me Go, uncharacteristically explored the realms of free improvisation. As wonderful and as exhilarating as those two albums were, I am certain that much of the Jarrett’s fanbase will be glad to get word of the trio’s return to the world of standards, which has brought them well-deserved acclaim. Unfortunately, however, fans are likely to be somewhat dissatisfied with what they hear on Up For It Although the album has its inspired moments, on the whole, Up For It captures a relatively flat performance that is not representative of the trio’s best work.

Jarrett himself acknowledges the album’s deficiencies, referring to it in the liner notes as a “flawed gem.” He describes in great detail the many obstacles that the trio faced while recording the album. The Antibes festival, at which this album was recorded, is an outdoor event. This past year, it was plagued by a week of unceasing rain showers and the trio’s appearance was almost cancelled as a result of the inclement weather that persisted even during their performance. Indeed, the trio had to play under clear plastic drop cloths just to keep themselves dry.

One of the effects of the weather was to cause Jarrett’s piano to sound “waterlogged,” as he puts it. Certainly, Jarrett has had success in the past with pianos that have been less than ideal. His best-selling album, The Köln Concert, was recorded on a shoddy piano. Yet so much of Jarrett’s playing revolves around his unearthly touch. He is able to achieve a three-dimensional sound with the piano that creates marvelous textures and seems to drape itself like gossamer around the rest of the trio. On Up For It, however, this aspect of his playing is greatly diminished by the piano’s poor condition. As a result, his solos rely simply on the power of his improvised melodies. Although his playing is admirable, it does little to distinguish Jarrett from so many other pianists.

The rain also seems to have affected the playing of Peacock and DeJohnette. Both give relatively subdued performances, that, although beautiful in their subtlety, lack the energy and the creativity found on so many of the earlier trio albums. Their solos on “Scrapple for the Apple” are perfect examples: DeJohnette is already far into his solo before he departs from the steady swinging rhythm that he keeps throughout most the song, and Peacock, too, stays fairly close to the walking bass line with which he begins the song. This sort of conservative playing is the norm on Up For It. Only on the album’s final track, “Autumn Leaves/Up For It” does the group really seem to let itself go and the results are terrific. Indeed, this track alone almost makes up for the rest of the album’s drawbacks.

Despite the many merits of Up For It, though, it is the album’s deficiencies that are most striking. This is particularly so because for two decades the trio has been producing nearly flawless albums. It is curious that on the trio’s 20th anniversary, Jarrett, a man known for his high standards and attention to detail, would choose to release an album that captures anything but a perfect performance.

By Nick Sheets

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