Keith Jarrett: Bordeaux Concert
Dale Barlow Quintet with Bernie McGann: Memories of McGann
They’re like children, records, living on after the artist has retired or died – proof that he or she once breathed and sweated music. And, a bit like illegitimate or adopted offspring, new ones can suddenly spring to light long after the person has stopped (pro)creating. These albums document concerts from two jazz giants: a 2016 solo performance from pianist Keith Jarrett, whose late-career output was curtailed when he suffered two strokes in 2018, and a 2008 quintet performance from the late Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann, who died in 2013.
Who knows whether more live albums will be exhumed from the vaults, but Bordeaux Concert is the latest in a half-century series of Jarrett solo improvisations, made famous by 1975’s The Koln Concert, and perhaps crowned by 2011’s Rio. This one initially finds him in ruminative mood, feeling out the piano, acoustics and audience, as he sculpts a sparse opener, carrying all foreboding of a lowering sky, and ending with a glint of sunshine that lingers into the light-on-water sparkle of Part II.
Yes, the 13 improvisations are again titled merely with Roman numerals, and, as has been the case with Jarrett’s new-century output, they are kept pithy (averaging six minutes) rather than turning into epics. Strands of French Impressionism, gospel, jazz balladry, blues, country and abstraction intersect at the whim of Jarrett’s bristling creativity, and result in moments of such otherworldly beauty as the end of IV.
One might reasonably ask just how many solo Jarrett albums one needs, but all are different, given his too-rare capacity for purging extant vocabulary in favour of genuine in-the-moment invention. Some fully-fledged “songs” spontaneously emerge, like the wistful VI and VII, which momentarily veer towards grandiosity, before Jarrett pulls them back from that brink, while VIII, a rolling blues, offers him respite from devising structures on the run. Most telling is Jarrett’s paring of his work to the minimum needed to carry his emotional narratives, as on XII (after the more operatic XI). When I interviewed him in 2013, he said he found much of his early solo work unlistenable because it was too busy. He might well enjoy Bordeaux Concert, therefore, especially XIII, which continues to haunt your ears long after the final note has faded.
Alto saxophonist Bernie McGann is still speaking to us from beyond the grave with his unmistakable bird-in-the-bush-like sound on an alto saxophone. This superbly recorded live set features him joining a vibrant band led by tenor saxophonist Dale Barlow, with pianist Bobby Gebert, bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Cameron Reid. Because it’s not McGann’s band, it draws him away from his conventional repertoire, a blistering D-Day apart. There are four Barlow compositions, including the lilting, slightly mysterious Nuforia, on which McGann sounds less at ease than Barlow and Gebert. On Gebert’s Daleo’s Dance, however, he has his alto fluttering and crying; hitting that zone of lyricism mixed with crazy juxtapositions which made his playing unique in jazz history. Among the standards is a lively What’s New, with Barlow fluently riding the groove, before McGann breaks it up with stuttering off-beats and floating notes that land as unexpectedly as a fly on your nose. On the ballads the whole band sounds sumptuous, and on The Breeze and I Barlow swaps to flute, while McGann leaps between intervals like an abseiler. This is a significant addition to his legacy.