THERE WAS good reason to expect a lot when Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock got together to record 10 jazz standards and one original in 1983. After all, Jarrett is a brilliant if erratic pianist, and one could hope that the refined structure of the songs and the discipline of drummer DeJohnette might give Jarrett the focus he needs. DeJohnette has become one of the top composers and band leaders of the '80s, and bassist Peacock worked with the great song interpreter, pianist Bill Evans.
The anticipated chemical reaction never takes place. On "Standards, Vol. 1," released in 1983, and "Standards, Vol. 2," out this year, Jarrett allows the great melodic themes of Jerome Kern, Alec Wilder and the like to slip away as he slides into meandering meditations that never confront the real drama of the songs. Moreover, Jarrett indulges in grunting scat vocals that are an annoying distraction.
DeJohnette is too willing to play the supportive session musician and never really challenges Jarrett. The best moments, in fact, belong to Peacock, whose bass solos on Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child" and Richard Rodgers' "It Never Entered My Mind" grasp the melodic/emotional heart of each song and transform them into something original and inspired.
While DeJohnette is best known as a drummer, bandleader and composer, he's also developed a considerable reputation as a pianist, the instrument he started out on at age four. "The Piano Album" is a splendid showcase for his skills. The tunes include several visceral originals (among them, "Ahmad the Terrible," a sprightly tribute to Ahmad Jamal); vibrant readings of Gigi Gryce's "Minority" and a pair of John Coltrane tunes, "Spiral" and "Countdown"; and yet another elastic jazz version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."
"Time After Time" also appears on pianist Richard Clayderman's "From Paris With Love." Clayderman, in case you haven't heard, is the biggest selling artist in French history, with 41 million records sold around the world.
Sort of a Gallic Ferrante or Teicher, he chooses popular ballads of the day ("I Want to Know What Love Is," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "This Guy's in Love With You") and some semi-classical pieces ("Theme from 'Elvira Madigan"), and renders them conservatively with lush arpeggios and single-line melodies from the right hand. Then he couches everything in thick string orchestrations, synthesizers and a rhythm section. There must be a market for this, but you can get the same effect for free by riding an elevator.
KEITH JARRETT -- With Jack DeJohnette & Gary Peacock: "Standards, Vol. 1" (ECM 23793-1 E) and "Standards, Vol. 2" (ECM 25023-1 E).
JACK DeJOHNETTE -- "The Jack DeJohnette Piano Album" (Landmark 1504); Jarrett, DeJohnette and Peacock appearing Saturday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
RICHARD CLAYDERMAN -- "From Paris With Love" (Columbia FC 40174); appearing Saturday at Constitution Hall.