Despite the Coughs and Photos Keith Jarrett Dazzles at Festival Hall

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A ghostly stage with just a pair of lights shining on the piano surrounded by a sea of people, many of whom seemed hypnotised by the excitement of the occasion, was the setting for last night’s Royal Festival Hall Keith Jarrett concert.

But far from it being a wake it turned into a joyous celebration of Jarrett’s music even if the concert had all the makings of a car crash. All it took was a few coughs: Jarrett sternly interrupted himself, to admonish the audience about their coughing, commenting gnomically that coughing indicated an implied boredom. Suitably told off the 3,000 people in the packed hall refrained from coughing for just a minute or two only resuming when Jarrett played more loudly! But a very annoyed Jarrett later began the second half ominously when someone took a quick photo of him. He told the person off and wearily soliloquised “what is it about this world that demands an image?”

While his announcements were bad tempered and even rude, even if at the end he thanked fans who had followed his career, the music was a marvel and at times inspirational. Starting with a requiem-like piece, Jarrett mixed and matched throughout, keeping the improvisations relatively short, very focused and often full of melodic and rhythmical invention. His darting bebop-flavoured runs, rhapsodic flourishes and gospel-tinged melodies had a spontaneity that was often engrossing, even if at times his foot stomping and orgasmic grunts were distracting. At the end the audience went wild and rivers of applause greeted Jarrett as he played four encores which included a lovely version of ‘My Song’ and an intricately lyrical version of ‘Over The Rainbow’. So all in all, a bit of a rollercoaster. Who said solo piano concerts were dull affairs?
Stephen Graham

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