BY MICHAEL TOLAND
As noted in the title, Hamburg ‘72 documents a trio date for pianist Keith Jarrett, as he led bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian through a NDR-Jazz-Workshop radio session in June of that year. The date captures Jarrett and his fellow travelers at a time when jazz was becoming increasingly experimental. Fusion was still in its most creative phase, prior to its evolution into fuzak, the classical/jazz blend called third stream had taken hold and free jazz had changed everything in the 60s. Every major artist of any note responded to these movements in one way or the other, and the men here were no exception. Jarrett had already dabbled in, and rejected, electric music, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t hold on to some of fusion’s rock energy. He also found purpose in third stream’s atmospheric pastoralism, not to mention its use of classical technique and combination of composition and improvisation. And all three musicians served time in the free army, especially Haden, who stood alongside Ornette Coleman when he revolutionized jazz.
It’s all reflected in the pieces performed here. “Everything That Lives Laments” and (obviously) “Piece For Ornette” lean heavily on high energy improv, with Jarrett on soprano sax more than piano. “Rainbow,” composed by Jarrett’s then-wife Margot, practically abandons rhythm for atmosphere, with Motian’s cymbals providing splashing accents. By contrast, “Take Me Back” emphasizes melody and an almost-straightforward backbeat, adding a note of easy accessibility to an otherwise challenging program. The set ends back where it began, combining the skittering improv of “Rainbow” with the energetic attack of “Everything That Lives Laments” on Haden’s epic “Song For Che,” which revolves around a duel of sorts between Jarrett’s soprano and Haden’s arco bass.
Jarrett can often come across as clinical, even oppressive, his prodigious technique sometimes overwhelming the music and making his performances more of a chore than a joy. But here he sounds energized, even playful, obviously enjoying the interplay between himself and the rhythm makers, As a result, Hamburg ‘72 isn’t only challenging – it’s genuinely fun, the sound of three musicians chasing each other’s talent through the maze of collective improvisation and having a great time doing it.
DOWNLOAD: “Song For Che,” “Everything That Lives Laments,” “Take Me Back”