Keith Jarrett Trio, Royal Festival Hall, London

Keith Jarrett and his long-standing trio remain the benchmark for giving the intricacies and intimacies of piano trio jazz a concert platform. Their performances are a three-way dialogue of twists, turns, sub-clauses and sudden surprises that rigorously follow the contours of each song. Textural detail can get lost – Jarrett’s piano was slightly muffled at this gig and his dynamic range blurred at the edges – but the trio maintain the intensity of performance by enforcing codes of conduct that are the norm for classical audiences and emphasising the creative process as spectacle – the ritual of drawn-out encores (there were four tonight); Jarrett’s bent-with-effort body language.

It works because they are supreme interpreters of the jazz repertoire, stamping their authority on classic jazz and avant-garde alike. Highlights of this gig included a vibrant first set reading of “Basin Street Blues” that was full of classic New Orleans subtlety and soul, and a free-form second set excursion on Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave”. Here, drummer Jack DeJohnette rattled the outer shell of his drums while Jarrett answered with dense clusters of scampering mid-range piano.

Both sets delivered different takes on a songbook standard and a modern jazz blues. There was a nod to alt rock with the theme from the film “The Bitter End”, an elegiac ballad “Answer Me My Love” and a trademark interpretation of “God Bless the Child” for a first encore. Intense playouts scattered melodic fragments over funky beats, modal swirls set up aching laments and the web of dense group interplay was a fascinating constant.

Jarrett opened unaccompanied, rippling majestically through Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”. Gary Peacock added bass counterpoint and DeJohnette stroked at the pulse with a cymbal hiss and a chatter of snare. Elsewhere they marked time with a firm walk and steady hi-hat, broke rhythms into splinters or riffed urgently. The balance between complex interplay, clarity of line and solo showcase was spot on and involving. Jarrett was bluesy and relaxed, even at a photo attempt during the first encore. Unusually, Drummer DeJohnette delivered the admonishment: “Think of the music.” Jarrett explained, “I’m famous for that. I can’t do it any more.”

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