BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Sometimes it feels like whenever he feels the need to release new music, Keith Jarrett simply digs up a concert tape of his “Standards” trio (his long-running band with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette) and sticks it out there. But After the Fall is a bit different. In the mid-’90s, the pianist was afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome and had been unable to play, much less perform, in nearly two years. When he began to improve, he called his pals Peacock and DeJohnette and decided, after one rehearsal, to jump back into the pool with both feet. Recorded in 1998, this double disk set documents Jarrett’s first public performance after a couple of years of silence.
Jarrett chose a mostly be-bop program as a way to play it safe. But for a man who wasn’t sure if the concert would go well, he plays with confidence. His riffs on Willard Robison’s “Old Folks” and Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy” ripple with an expert precision and his usual minute attention to melody, while his solos on Wrubel/Magidson’s “The Masquerade is Over” and Paul Desmond’s “Late Lament” hit affecting levels of expression. As usual, Peacock and DeJohnette provide perfect accompaniment, locked into each other like two hands on one body, the bassist’s rubbery tone perfectly complemented by the drummer’s propulsive cymbal and snare work. Listen to the way the musicians come together on Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ With Bud” as a hive mind that gracefully trades licks, comps and solos as it was planned out in advance. A dynamic take on John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” has the three feeding off each other’s energy and returning it tenfold. The band even takes on the hoary Xmas chestnut “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” giving it new, swinging life.
Johnny Mercer’s much-recorded “Autumn Leaves” shows the trio at its best, taking a standard approaching oversaturationn and injecting it with new life: DeJohnette uses a Latin percussion style to keep the rhythm unpredictable, Peacock grooves hard and solos with abandon and Jarrett surpasses his lead breaks with some beautifully off-kilter comping. It’s a bravura performance that proves Jarrett made the correct decision to get back in the game.
DOWNLOAD: “Autumn Leaves,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Moment’s Notice”