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Thursday, July 06, 2006

KEITH JARRETT The Survivors' Suite

ECM-1-1085 (1977)

The Survivors' Suite features pianist Keith Jarrett's classic seventies quartet of himself, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian. With the bulk of Jarrett's recordings of the last couple of decades made either by himself or with his Standards Trio, it's nice to reach back into his archives and listen to Jarrett improvise with horn, bass, and drums.

The album consists of the title track broken into two parts, one on either side of the album. "Beginning" opens with Jarrett playing a modal melody on bass recorder (he also plays soprano saxophone, celeste, and osi drums on this recording, in addition to piano) over muted percussion and shakers. Haden enters on bowed bass, alternating between low end drones and high end squeals. Redman plays the first theme, doubled by Jarrett on soprano sax and accompanied softly by Haden and Motian. The music builds in intensity as Jarrett shifts to piano and leads the group in the second theme, a lovely, circular ostinato that acts not unlike the secondary theme in a sonata-form symphony. Though largely improvised, the piece has a very definite overall structure that allows the musicians to improvise freely with a common goal in mind.

Next, Haden steps forward with a plaintive, plucked bass solo over a beautiful harmonic progression on celeste by Jarrett, then the band closes off the track with a slow ballad based loosely on previously played material. Side two's "Conclusion" opens fiercely with a fiery Coltrane-like riff that quickly dissolves into free improvisation, with Redman's tenor howling and sputtering and Jarrett invoking the spirit of Cecil Taylor with pounding tone clusters. The band eventually settles into a groove over a two-chord riff featuring a brief, bluesy solo from Jarrett, then Redman joins in on a melodic, almost pop-inflected theme which leads into another, more angular piano solo. The album closes with the reentry of the bass recorder, a brief statement of the theme from the beginning of side two, and an elegiac finale.

The Survivors' Suite is both challenging and entirely accessible; the perfect album to lend to your free jazz-fearing friend.


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