Pianist Keith Jarrett gives his only North American solo concert of the year this Saturday, February 17, at Symphony Center. (It’s also his first solo gig in Chicago since 1985.) Jarrett’s Köln Concert, recorded back in 1975, set a watermark for the pianist’s grueling, epic solo concerts, where he sat down at his instrument without anything formally prepared; it was also a commercial smash by jazz standards. He’d just make it all up on the spot, and when one delves into the melodic and harmonic realm with Jarrett’s rigor and focus, each performance becomes like running a marathon.
Since being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome back in 1996 the pianist has made the most of his recovery, performing frequently and releasing albums like he’s running out of time. Last year he released The Carnegie Hall Concert (ECM), a double CD recorded live in September 2005 that showcases the state of his solo performances now. The bulk of the collection is made up of a ten-part untitled piece that goes through all kinds of moods, rhythms, and melody, much of it subdued. It’s a dazzling accomplishment, especially considering that Jarrett doesn’t easily fall into familiar licks or gambits—he manages to keep a fresh spin on most of it. While I’m impressed by the music, however, I can’t say it moves me too much. I dig the pianist’s old group with Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden, and his trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette is pretty fine as well, but there’s a kind of deeply polished surface to the music that prevents me from penetrating it. Of course, there are an awful lot of jazz listeners that would consider me a fool, too. Can you tell me what I’m not getting?