In Berkeley: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette

Keith Jarrett: plays Berkeley on Saturday

Listen to Keith Jarrett playing Paris Concert while you read our reviewParis Concert by Keith Jarrett

Every performance by pianist Keith Jarrett comes freighted with outsized expectations. One of jazz’s most popular and influential pianists and composers since the early 1970s, Jarrett performs at Zellerbach Hall on Saturday with his “Standards Trio” featuring sublime bassist Gary Peacock and ingenious drummer Jack DeJohnette, a prolific ensemble that’s recorded a series of often ravishing live albums for ECM.

As the group’s nickname implies, the trio is a vehicle for exploring American Songbook standards and modern jazz staples, rather than for Jarrett’s original compositions or the extended extemporaneous improvisation captured on his 1975 monster hit album “The Köln Concert.”

At his best, Jarrett can reach astonishing heights of lyricism propelled by DeJohnette’s feathery caress of his cymbals, though recent Bay Area performances have been hit or miss affairs. At some concerts, half a set passed before the trio hit its stride and found its way into a startlingly beautiful place. But much of the drama surrounding a Jarrett performance is temperamental rather than musical. Famously irascible on stage, the pianist has been known to stop playing mid-tune if distracted by an offending cough during a pianissimo passage. He’s also not shy about critiquing his instrument if he finds it unsatisfactory (take note Cal Performances).

Standards Trio: Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock

The diva mannerisms can be off-putting, especially when many listeners find his trademark vocalizations a bigger distraction than any throat clearing (I’ve never minded his hum, a high buzzing sound that seems to originate in the back of his throat).

Despite the shenanigans, I keep coming back because when the trio’s having a good night it’s one of jazz’s most transporting ensembles. Part of the fun is trying to figure out what tune Jarrett is introducing as he launches into a rhapsodic introduction, leaving the melody far behind until he locks into a groove with Peacock and DeJohnette.

On ballads in particular, where Jarrett reharmonizes familiar lines so that they’re almost unrecognizable, the trio can turn the most well trod tune into something startlingly new.

Andrew Gilbert lives in west Berkeley and covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, bookmark Berkeleyside’s recently launched Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

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  • laura

    Andrew, I love your columns.

    Last  year we experienced Keith Jarrett as Davies, true to form, he was brilliant and cantankerous.
    http://www.examiner.com/jazz-in-san-francisco/jazz-giant-keith-jarrett-delights-and-baits-sf-audience

    Despite jeers from some impatient and rude audience members, the faithful hung tight and were rewarded with 7 encores. I found the mix of theater, therapy and music transforming.

  • David

    I was also at that Davies solo concert last year. It was a sickening experience, the worst I’ve ever had at any kind of concert.

    As a life-long Keith Jarrett fan–I’ve seen him many times over 30 years and own most of his recordings–I’ll never see him live again. He’s very possibly the greatest living pianist, certainly in jazz, but his live performances are no longer bearable. “Prima donna” isn’t even close–he’s just a jerk.

  • Diana Lee

    I just found this article, having been at the concert at Zellerbach last night.  I hadn’t seen Jarrett for many years, and maybe he’s mellowed – there was coughing in the house, but he didn’t seem to notice.  Regarding your comment about the instrument, though, there was a piano tuner at work during intermission!

  • Mark Phillips

    Thanks Andrew. How about a follow-up review?

     The focus in these comments has been on Keith Jarrett’s personality. Leaving that behind, in the past where it belongs, the performance of the trio on Saturday at Zellerbach was one of the best jazz concerts I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve seen many of the greats over a fifty year period. 

    As Diana indicates, maybe he’s mellowed, maybe it’s because he’s on love. It doesn’t matter. Whatever the reasons, he was in prime form and the interplay between he, Peacock, and DeJohnette, especially in the second half, was as good as it gets. Particularly in a couple of the ballads, the music was transcendent.

    The audience clearly agreed.

    I’d love to see a review, with the song list as well. I think it’s interesting that while the LA Times gave a full review to their concert at Royce a week or so ago, none of our very deficient Bay area papers has reviewed the concert. What else is new?!

  • hapifam

    Ditto.  FANTASTIC show.  Maybe the best I’ve ever seen!!!  Would love to see a review and song list.  Transcendent is an accurate description of the music…

  • Guest

    Have seen his live impro solo at Zellerbach on sunday. Simply Incredible! Actually really interacting with the audience and making jokes!

  • Giuseppe

    I made myself the same promise a few years back, after a disastrous concert in Verona, Italy. KJ abruptly left the stage twice, with no explanations, leaving the 20,000+ audience wondering what the heck was going on. When he came back he ranted on about people being ignorant etc. It’s too bad the Arena is so big, had I been closer to the stage, I would have done the unimaginable for me: I would have yelled back a him in tune.