Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Great Expectations

In some ways, Expectations—released on Columbia Records in 1972—is something of a ringer in the catalog of Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet. The full quartet—Jarrett, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian—is only featured on five of the 11 tracks, and only one piece is played by just the quartet. That stated, the album—originally a two-LP set—was produced by George Avakian, who also produced the band’s two Atlantic releases, and Jarrett’s writing is in the same mode as El Juicio and Birth. It fits into the lineage.

The original album is quite an artifact, with an Afro’ed and tie-dyed Jarrett gracing the back cover, just above 22 flags, representing “countries in which Keith Jarrett has won the praise and respect of musicians, critics and the public.” That would be 22 out of more than 190? Probably not something a “global” jazzman would want to flaunt today. Perhaps the record label had second thoughts, too; Expectations was Jarrett’s only release on Columbia.

The additional elements for these sessions include percussionist Airto Moreira, who had been in Miles Davis’ band with Jarrett, uncredited string and brass sections, and the brilliant guitarist Sam Brown. A Maryland native who first drew attention for his work on Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, Brown had a stinging attack and a tart tone that Jarrett called on again for Treasure Island in 1974. He committed suicide at the age of 38 in 1977.

Side 1 includes some of my favourite of Jarrett’s writing during this period, in particular “Common Mama,” whose fusion of gospel, blues, Latin and free music makes the case for calling this the American Quartet. Like long stretches of the Bremen and Lausanne solo concerts that ECM released in 1973, Jarrett grooves as he ruminates on a theme. That gives way to a squalling Redman solo, and either Jarrett or Moreira spices things up with a tambourine accompaniment that sounds like that spine-snapping rhythm riff from Miles Davis’ “Helen Butte.” Finally, an Ornette-like theme develops and is handed off to Jarrett for a particularly joyous closing solo.

The spirit of Ornette also infuses “Roussillon,” one of the tracks performed by the quartet alone. Jarrett’s soprano weaves around Redman’s tenor, and following a Haden interlude, Jarrett plays a particularly intense piano solo. To my ear, Redman’s growling tenor solo sounds like he’s emulating Jarrett’s signature vocalizations without mocking the boss.

“The Magician In You” has one of those Jarrett-composed melody lines that is both sprightly and majestic, and it’s attractively voiced by Brown, bookending a Jarrett solo that is filled with leaps and twists. Even with those charms, the performance is almost undone by tentative rhythmic accompaniment that makes this sound like it’s a rehearsal.

Of the other augmented quartet performances on Expectations, “Sundance” is another highlight of the band’s early years—with Brown and Redman taking raucous solos over a churning rhythm bed. “Bring Back The Time When (If)” adds Moreira and drops Brown, and captures the freewheeling side of the quartet between statements of a theme that hints at both calypso and the church.

The gospel connection is solidified in the closing “There Is A Road (God’s River),” which eschews Redman but provides Brown with an exceptional showcase. The string section adds little except some drama, but neither do they weigh down this strong closer.

2 comments:

Matthew Crosier said...

James

Great review, can't wait to find the disc and give it a listen!

Adam said...

Besides the ones you mentioned, i also love the track "Expectations". A haunting melody rendered by Charlie Haden with eerily dissonant string voicings, and a beautiful solo statement and closing from Jarrett...