CONCERT REVIEW Keith Jarrett is Better Than You, and He Knows It

Keith Jarrett Trio

Symphony Hall

October 26, 2008

The trailblazer of egoism in Jazz might be Miles Davis, or perhaps Charlie Mingus; each declared jazz to be art, not just entertainment. They didn’t smile. They didn’t laugh. If you screwed around with them, they punched you in the face (in Mingus’ case).

But they were brilliant, so they got away with it.

Keith Jarrett is maintaining this tradition proudly. After his latest show at Symphony Hall, he called out several audience members for taking photographs, one by one, pointing, and generally making known his disgust. A guy in the front insisted that they did it because they “liked him.” Jarrett respond, “like me? I am not my complexion.” The crowd gasped. Did he really say that?

No points for subtlety, but he gives some food for thought. Jarret doesn’t want to be reduced to a photograph, and the fact that he can get away with that is a testament to his art, and the reverence the audience has for him. It’s not through showiness — he doesn’t move much, nor is he much of a public speaker. He doesn’t screech out high notes or jump into the crowd. His amp doesn’t go up to eleven.

What Jarrett has is understanding. Understanding of how much, and when. A lot of musicians can spit out intense riffs in random succession, but it takes a guy like Jarrett to get a deep, vintage sound. It’s mellow and intense at the same time.

As this show was a celebration of Jarrett’s trio, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette filled in the gaps. Two and a half decades of playing together show. These guys have an internal pulse going — a communion — that’s hard to detect at times, but jaw-dropping when it comes out. Peacock and DeJohnette play with both meter and harmony — Peacock is never in tune, and DeJohnette is never on the beat. But you know they know exactly where they are, because when the trio comes back to the melody all three are on it. It’s like watching shadows dance on a wall — amorphous, but beautiful.

Peacock and DeJohnette match Jarrett’s artistry by carefully determining when to sing out, and when to lay low. The first three tunes were slower ballads, requiring less intense (but nonetheless rhythmically complex) solos from DeJohnette in particular. His kit consisted of more cymbals than drums, adding a ringing color to the songs that most drummers in jazz can’t emphasize. However, during the second set DeJohnette displayed a master level of musicianship as he played continuous notes on every inch of his drumkit. As the solo died down, the legendary drummer’s footwork emerged, pounding through the venue in a nimble, odd meter.

After the show, the audience clapped the trio through two encores, including a wildly fast cover of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” Jarrett dropped out after the head to let the two other guys go. Flurry after flurry of one-handed rolls, and neck-length slides flowed over the audience for the next five minutes, a capriccio for drumset and bass. It’s showing off, but two and a half decades of being one of the premier jazz pianists give you that license. And the audience loved every bit of it.

Jarrett might not be back in Boston for a while, but if you get the chance to see him, go. Just leave your camera at home.