In the late 1960s four pianists began to emerge as the dominant influences for the next 20 years of keyboard jazz: McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett. All of them have helped reinterpret the traditional jazz repertoire, but each has also struck off in a different and unique direction, and none more so than Jarrett. Jarrett has embraced iconoclastic elements of the classical piano literature; what’s more, he has regularly presented wholly improvised solo-piano works of symphonic length, which have made him the object of both sincere adulation and intense scrutiny. Working without a net, he uses stylistic trademarks and flashes of inspiration to create true musical events; they range from the slightly sleepy to some of the most electrifying and deeply satisfying music I have ever heard. These works still showcase the frank romanticism and even some of the swooning sensuality that made Jarrett’s 1975 album The Koln Concert a leading make-out sound track for college kids. But since the milestone five-CD Sun Bear Concerts (1976) and in his occasional subsequent solo tours, Jarrett has burrowed further into this form, regularly risking excess to deliver his version of artistic truth. These improvised sonatas feature plenty of Sturm und Drang, islands of serenity, long ostinato passages, and the repetitively churning, rhythmically complex patterns that serve the same function as religious mandalas. (If you concentrate on them long enough, you have a chance of piercing the veil of maya.) Jarrett has more than a touch of the mystic in both his music and his person. Of his recent Vienna Concert he writes–with his typical mixture of elegant insight and precious hyperbole–“I have courted the fire for a very long time, and many sparks have flown in the past, but the music on this recording speaks, finally, the language of the flame itself.” With any luck, he’ll burn that brightly in this, his first solo concert in Chicago this decade. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Gene Martin.