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Spotlights [Issue # 11 ]
Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette: The Out-Of-Towners

By Jason Sklar

The Out-of-Towners, pianist Keith Jarrett’s latest release, showcases pristine piano playing, fluid runs, flowing chord progressions, and a clarion piano sound nurtured by the walking bass lines of Gary Peacock and relentless swing of drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Like Jarrett’s other recent releases such as Whisper Not (1999) and Up for It (2002), The Out-of-Towners offers a generous snapshot sampling of three of jazz’s finest musicians sharing their musical wit and astounding synergistic interplay.

Releasing nearly an album a year for over 20 years with the same band members is remarkable in any day and age. When asked if he has plans for retirement any time soon, bassist Gary Peacock kids, “For many people, retirement is moving to Boca Raton, Florida, playing golf, and attending cocktail parties. Essentially, they start doing what they want to be doing. I retired when I was 19. I’ve been doing what I wanted to be doing for the past 40 to 50 years.” This undying dedication to musicianship pushes the group’s members to continue to dig deep to conjure up the most in-the-moment swing sounds. Jarrett and his trio do not contour their pieces in advance, but rather, they harness the live setting to occupy a musical space unreachable for most.

Why, then, might one be quick to scoff at Jarrett’s latest installment? Jarrett has long been heralded as a precipice of piano players, but on a fair number of occasions has garnered criticism from certain scorners. Some see Jarrett’s playing as simple melodic variations or meandering note clusters. The harshest critic in this vein of argument might even propose that his “seemingly dazzling legato lines go nowhere and feel like hollow technical shows of wizardry.”

But this criticism arrives ill-placed, for if Jarrett were a new kid out on the scene, no self-proclaimed jazz zealot could ever verbally misconstrue his playing in such a manner. Instead, they would be ringing the bells of praise. This disdain stems from expectations of what the music should sound like rather than allowing it to sound how it naturally evolves.

Depending on what musical angle one hears the music from, our responses invariably differ. “People are listening at different levels, from all purposes and positions,” says bassist Gary Peacock. “Some use music for background. For others, it helps them study, read, or get through the day. Some invoke music as a soundtrack to life.” Or, as is often the case with jazz, “As an analytic device. Just become what you are listening to,” Peacock suggests. “Once you begin to explain art, you miss it.”

Make no mistake - Keith Jarrett is a total musician. Just check out his brilliant interpretations of Mozart’s concertos and then stretch your ear on his free playing album, Always Let Me Go (2002). Granted, neither album may equal one’s personal satisfaction with some other album, but no artist can maximally please all his listeners all the time.

By playing music in the moment, Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette transcend both space and time as they navigate forms, harmonic schemes, and meters. In so doing, they accept and move into uncharted musical spaces.

While playing, Jarrett seeks total immersion in the moment. It is hard to tell whether Jarrett’s head-voice humming encourages his fingers to take a certain route, or vice versa.

To really appreciate the music requires a “willingness to disappear into the music at hand without concern of what it should sound like and what it shouldn’t,” says Peacock. This willingness to suspend judgment not only helps the listener catch the more subtle corners of the music, but also permits a big-picture appreciation of the trio’s work over time.

“When you become whatever it is you’re listening to, a huge world opens up so far beyond what you can possibly imagine,” remarks Peacock. “Just lose yourself,” he says. “Drown yourself in the musical space that opens up. Know this space will be manifested and just trust the possibility that it awaits. So, make yourself available for that.”

“Unless you really shut off the chatter-box, you can’t hear the evolution of the music,” elucidates Peacock. Peacock, like Jarrett and DeJohnette, brings a certain sense of urgency that both grounds and helps him to surrender to the music. “If we felt inadequate or thought we had to maintain a statement or image, that would kill the music in a second. We’ve nothing to prove. Nothing to protect. Nothing we feel we need to say. Nothing we aspire towards. Just the music is left.”

The Out-Of-Towners

The Out-Of-Towners Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette The Out-Of-Towners

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