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On Art, Artists, and “the Ecstatic State”

A year ago, I wrote about Keith Jarrett on the occasion of his seventy-fourth birthday. I don’t want to make it an annual thing, but this piece by Chase Kuesel is worth reading this year, as it highlights the tension between capital-A Artists like Jarrett and our current “digital moment”:

The profundity of Keith Jarrett’s recorded output can be traced to exactly those musical values that are so unfit for digital parameterization. Part of the joy of listening to Jarrett is the experience of affixing yourself to the sinuous waves of his improvisations and tracing them as they unfold over time. While he has the ability to immediately transfix a listener—rapid lines, cacophonous sheets of sound, a physical orientation to the instrument that is at once athletic and sensual—it is secondary to the way he makes meaning over the course of a performance. His phrases move in broad, gestural strokes, forsaking the hypnotic verticality so prevalent in digitally-infused music. When you listen to Jarrett improvising, you don’t bob your head up and down or aggressively pulsate with your torso; you gently sway from side to side, following the curves of the performance as they unfold. To follow these curves is to experience a type of tumbling inevitability: his lines wrap in and around one another but with a perpetual sense of forward-motion, unfurling outwards with a dual sense of elaboration and exploration. In this way, there is something deeply satisfying about experiencing Jarrett’s playing in real-time. Devoid of clichés and predictability, the satisfaction of its logic can only be experienced simultaneous with its arrival. 

First, that there’s just straight-up baller writing. Second, Kuesel is right: Even with a recording of Jarrett, you need to commit—and there are so few people willing to do that these days, it seems. More’s the pity.

Anyway, last year I recommended The Köln Concert for Jarrett newbies; this year, why not go all in with his Sun Bear Concerts? After all, if you want “the experience of affixing yourself to the sinuous waves of his improvisations and tracing them as they unfold over time,” there’s not better place to start than six and a half hours’ worth of live improvisation.



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