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Keith Jarrett - Munich 2016 Music Album Reviews

A newly released date from the pianist’s 2016 European tour toggles between dizzyingly athletic avant-garde jazz, foot-stomping ragtime, and a few tender standards.

Keith Jarrett approaches the piano the way a star athlete courts the ball—it’s a full-body experience, marked by sweat, facial spasms, and an inability to remain still. Jarrett’s improvisational solo concerts have been characterized by this level of physicality since he began performing professionally in the 1960s, and more than half a century hasn’t hampered his game. We may not be able to see Jarrett’s piano acrobatics while listening to his newly released live recording Munich 2016, but his enthusiasm and vigor are palpable. Recorded on the final night of a European tour, Munich 2016 provides a snapshot of the piano legend in his seventies: energetic, spontaneous, and inventive as ever.


Munich 2016 was recorded at the Philharmonie in the titular German city, home to Jarrett’s longtime label ECM. The acoustics are pristine, and while the room can be heard, the presence of the audience is largely absent from the tape—a good thing, considering Jarrett’s history of walking off stage due to people coughing, sneezing, or producing any combination of involuntary bodily functions. Fortunately for the listener, Jarrett does not police his own: He is so exhilarated by the music that he cannot stop himself from stomping, shouting, and humming off-key throughout the 12-part improvisational suite.

There are three primary styles that shape the pieces on Munich 16: lyricism, the blues, and dizzying avant-garde jazz. “Part I” belongs to the latter camp. With a runtime of over 13 minutes, it is the record’s longest piece, and it undergoes the most drastic temperature shifts—like watching time-lapse footage of the four seasons. There is no breathing space in the piece, and while Jarrett’s right hand spends time tumbling across the higher keys, it is the constant, ominous bass thump that grabs you by the throat and keeps you still. “Part VII” is from a similar school, a brief but daring piece that clocks in at just under two minutes. It is the only track that acknowledges the audience; we hear a quick rip of applause before Jarrett launches into a fearless polyrhythmic composition. Perhaps it is Munich 16’s shortest offering because it is the most exhausting to play.

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Jarrett frequently alternates between styles on Munich 16, creating a dynamic sequence that doesn’t wear out any one particular method. “Part IX” is a spirited 12-bar blues, the steady structure of which allows Jarrett to solo wildly with his right hand. The dry keys seem to trip over each other, but Jarrett is too in control to let them drop completely. His atonal groans somehow function as a grounding force for the swift stunt work of his digits. “Part IV” is another blues entry, and perhaps the album’s most jovial track—a foot-stomping ragtime that calls to mind Ramsey Lewis Trio and Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts compositions.

Jarrett relieves the ear with soft, melodic passages throughout Munich 16, including the final three songs: interpretations of standards “Answer Me My Love,” “It’s a Lonesome Old Town,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Jarrett’s grunts are absent from these last three movements, and his spare and tender playing conjures a closeness to the listener, as if you’re lying beneath the belly of his instrument. “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” is the most striking, a woozy nocturne that is so sad, its soft and sweet notes seem to sour as they linger in the air. In the last 15 minutes, Jarrett strips everything back, leaving plenty of space to interpret these beloved songs with the same reverence paid by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and countless others. On Munich 16, Jarrett’s talent and ingenuity are self-evident—and so is his passion for the music that shaped him.


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