Keith Jarrett, Royal Festival Hall, London

Keith Jarrett’s solo performances put almost as many demands on audiences as they do on the pianist himself. There are strict rules – no coughing, no photography
(a blessing), no re-admittance – and elaborate rituals of bowing and acknowledgement between each number that reach a climax in drawn-out encores. In other hands, this might be irritating, but it is a process that Jarrett uses to focus the mind. And it works. At this generous, two-set performance, he bared his soul, and immersed a full and spellbound house in a succession of delicate themes, volcanic abstractions and rolling, disjointed boogies.

It began with a maelstrom of splattered counterpoint delivered with a light touch. The pulse firmed up, there were hints of a riff, two-handed rolls and abstract shapes that swirled out of the lower register, with both hands on the go. It was high-energy stuff and ended with a trill, a quick-fire arpeggio and a single-note stop. Two ballads followed. The first was delicately poised over gentle cadences and it morphed to a passionate, flamenco-inflected highlight; the second was a sparse reverie over an elastic pulse.

After a short break – a heavy cold was to blame – a stark tremolo unfolded into momentous panoramas and themes that suggested a storm to come. Then came a country-soul boogie – the bass figure was truncated and, recalling the old blues masters, changed key when the fancy struck – and finally a return to abstraction, but this time jagged and bop-inflected.

In the second set the balance shifted to ballads but a rolling-rhythmed “Summertime”, gospel and a return to angularity provided variety. As before, themes conjured in the moment were rarely reprised and stopped suddenly at Jarrett’s whim. Yet each self-contained piece sustained coherence, even while following the pianist’s wildest fancy. At times he stood, fingers flying in long, arcing runs while his left hand prodded, nagged or thumped out a beat. But elsewhere there were warmly developed cadences and the stark ring of a simple chord or a single note.

It was a terrific performance whose contrasts were sustained through to the rolling rhythms and dazzling lines of the fourth and final encore, a nippy minor blues. Jarrett’s solo performances always concentrate the mind, but tonight’s warm-hearted performance was exceptionally giving.

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