Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Into The Quartet—Into The Bubble

Preparing for my immersion in Keith Jarrett's so-called American Quartet I realize that I am missing two pieces of their official catalogue: their first release, The Mourning Of A Star, which was recorded in July 1971, along with El Juicio and Birth; and The Survivors' Suite, the band's first of two recordings on ECM. I have to remedy that.

I've been pondering how to launch this study—thinking I might begin with Expectations, which, although it was recorded three months after the quartet first recorded, always feels like an introduction to me, because it features other musicians.

Tonight, though, flipping through a slim book of Jarrett quotes that ECM published in 2003, I found the ideal beginning in this quote, from an interview he gave to Michael Ullmann in 1994:

"When you have two guys from Ornette Coleman's band, which never had a piano, and their leader is now a pianist, it's a very touchy situation. Because when you hear music melodically the way most of the Ornette players—including Ornette—hear, they are not trapped; they will never allow themselves to be inside a zone if they feel like leaving that zone. So if you're writing something to make a unit out of this quartet, it's like writing a thing that's a bubble that can continue to expand in different directions and doesn't inhibit everybody. But still, you don't want one guy to play one way, and another guy to play on changes. You don't want the bubble that holds them together to burst. The challenge was immense, but it was a very interesting band."

Erratum: Pianist Frank Kimbrough kindly pointed out to me that The Mourning Of A Star is, in fact, a trio recording without Dewey Redman. My error resulted from my poor reading of the credits in Richard Cook and Brian Morton's Penguin Guide To Jazz. So, I'm only missing one, and I have a line on that now, too. Onwards!


Matt said...

What led you to this immersion James? I was in this immersion along with Stephen from my shop a few months ago. Fort Yawuh is some shit (in a good way)!

James Hale said...

Several things led to choosing the quartet for this year's intensive listening project:

(1) As noted, my fond memories of discovering the band when it was still in action;

(2) The fact that I had never filled in my collection with digital versions of the band's output, and this is a good excuse;

(3) George Schuller's re-interpretation of some of the band's book last year; and

(4) Talking to Ethan Iverson about the influence that the quartet had on the Bad Plus, and Ethan's revealing interview on the BBC with Jarrett about the inner workings of the band.