Keith Jarrett is one of the strongest and most passionate improvising musicians of all time. Ranging from solo play to various trios and quartets that play everything from standards to original compositions, every time he touches the piano, he uproots powerful emotion and unabashed musicality. Moreover, Keith Jarrett has one of the largest discographies in jazz and classical music, and as expected, there are a handful of his albums that are essential to jazz history and the overarching span of improvising music.
Facing You - Keith Jarrett (1971)
On his first solo piano album, and his first body of work for Manfred Eicher’s historic ECM record label, Keith Jarrrett plays eight astounding original compositions with the utmost beauty, fury, and passion. Across Facing You, you hear him singing along to the melodies in his right hand, proving his dedication to make melody the frontmost important piece of the project. Moreover, his clear-cut, rhythmic ideas and exploration of harmony support the melodies perfectly, making them that much more attention-grabbing to the ear. The album as a whole takes listeners on a monumental experience, such as sporadic 1/16th note moments on “Lalene” and “My Lady, My Child” followed by more tender moments on “Landscape for Future Earth” and “Vapallia.” Facing You set the tone for Keith Jarrett’s solo piano playing era, as well as mobilized a crucial relationship between artist and producer that would go on to create renowned and legendary bodies of work.
My Song - Keith Jarrett (1978)
This is one of “those” albums. Keith Jarrett’s connection and presence in Europe’s music scene was much greater compared to America, and that is notable here. The European Quartet, featuring Jan Garbarek on saxophone, Palle Danielsson on bass, and Jon Christensen on drums, had a certain sound and relation that is unlike any other jazz quartet. Whether it’s Garbarek and Jarrett’s effortless and natural conversation on their instruments, or how locked in Christensen and Danielsson are on every track, the collective plays like one unit, striving to bring the music to life. My Song is without a doubt this group’s greatest achievement, and from the opening chordal ascension in “Questar” to the final tutti chord on “The Journey Home,” they forge an immaculate experience for anyone looking to zone in on sheer passion and artistry.
The Melody At Night, With You - Keith Jarrett (1999)
On many of Keith Jarrett’s solo concert recordings, he mainly tackles spur-of-the-moment, improvised material; however, he will sometimes add in a jazz standard as an interlude, or even as the final song to close the night. It’s the only time we hear Jarrett play standards solo, which are always gorgeous and sensitive renditions, like “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from Munich 2016. The Melody At Night, With You gives us a plethora of Great American Songbook standards and classic folk hymns played so beautifully and delicately, that if you listen closely, you can hear the pedal and hammers being pressed and released with pristine subtlety. The emphasis on melody is perhaps the greatest element across the entire record, as Jarrett sticks very closely to the blueprint of each song, never really taking solos that venture far from the tonality. Instead, he lets the elegance of the melodic material speak for itself.
The Survivors’ Suite - Keith Jarrett (1976)
Comprising a “Beginning” and “Conclusion,” The Survivors’ Suite is fifty minutes of pure programmatic musicality and spirituality. Keith Jarrett plays piano, celesta, soprano saxophone, bass recorder, and a variety of drums, alongside the other American Quartet members, including tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian. One of the most famous jazz quartets in history, the collective sheds every ounce of courage and passion they have within themselves to create a surreal listening experience unlike any other. Through sensitive sections, like Haden’s bass solo accompanied with celesta near the end of “Beginning,” to more fierce moments, like Redman and Motian’s savage solos in “Conclusion,” The Survivors’ Suite is a glimpse into the unbelievably gifted mind that is Keith Jarrett’s.
Standards In Norway - Keith Jarrett (1989)
Keith Jarrett’s “Standards Trio” includes the late Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums; two artists who have contributed to various illustrious jazz projects. Out of the multitude of “jazz standard” albums this trio has performed, Standards In Norway is without a doubt one of the best. Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette encapsulate the piano trio framework that the originators (pianist Bill Evans, bassist Scott LeFaro, and drummer Paul Motian) laid down, and build beyond that. Peacock and DeJohnette’s time feel is incredibly interlocked, creating the perfect canvas for Jarrett to paint these beautifully complex piano lines over. Moreover, hearing the trio play “deep cut” standards like “All Of You,” “Old Folks,” and “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” makes this specific standards record stand out above the rest, and solidifies it as one of Jarrett’s greatest projects overall.
Eyes of The Heart - Keith Jarrett (1976)
One of the most underrated performances by the American Quartet, Eyes Of The Heart takes the listener along at a level deeper than the music itself, forcing them to live in the space adjacent to the notes. This is achieved because each musician seeks to improvise at a degree of higher intent than themself; serving the music in an intimate and authentic way. Dewey Redman doesn’t even play for the first part, showing his restraint and respect to the others. Furthermore, there isn’t one note played here that was unintentional; every direction the music went to was in direct association with the quartet’s balance and communication. From the auxiliary percussion section at the start, to Jarrett’s tender, yet powerful solo piano interjection in the middle, and all the way to Redman and Jarrett playing duo saxophone together near the end, Eyes Of The Heart is a once-in-a-lifetime live performance, full of glory, spirit, and admiration for that moment.
The Köln Concert - Keith Jarrett (1975)
Obvious, but definitely warranted, The Köln Concert is the most bona fide, intimate, passionate, and beautiful solo piano improvisation to ever grace the world of improvised music. Keith Jarrett’s patience, attention to detail, and liveliness are just three elements to pull from the four part, hour long performance, as he transitions through different moods, tonalities, and reflections. You can find blues language, bebop language, pentatonic language, all intersecting to create insanely dense harmonies to support dazzling and tenacious melodies that are as complex as they are bewitching. Jarrett is a master at playing exactly what he hears in the moment, and his ear is attuned to generating and shaping sounds that are calming to the mind, heart-wrenching to the body, and gratifying to the soul. If there was a time machine tour of music history, The Köln Concert is a well-deserved snapshot; rather, a moment you wish to bask in, to truly perceive and understand what the aura of spirit, love, and truth can do on the piano.