Sometimes the best approach to interpreting a pop or jazz standard is to simply get out of the way and let the composer's work speak for itself. That's what jazz pianist Keith Jarrett does on his new album, "The Melody at Night, With You" (ECM), a collection of solo performances that emphasize lyricism rather than virtuosity.
It's not surprising to find Jarrett exploring this music; he's already recorded numerous pop tunes, including some of the familiar pieces heard here, in his "Standards" trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. What's different is the setting. Jarrett, who has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome in recent years, recorded the new album at his house in rural New Jersey without accompaniment, and it isn't long before the performances take on the air of a living room recital.
The opening track, the Gershwins' "I Loves You, Porgy," reprised with unabashed fidelity and subtle finesse, quickly establishes a ruminative mood that Jarrett sustains throughout the album. It's also the first of 10 poignant or melancholy melodies that contribute to the album's introspective allure and thematic consistency. The pianist nearly always hews closely to the melodic contours of each tune, imparting his own sense of time and letting the silences speak as eloquently as the notes themselves.
Most of the tunes, including "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Blame It on My Youth" and "Something to Remember You By," are well suited to Jarrett's deliberate touch, with its emphasis on lingering treble figures and shadowy harmonies. In Jarrett's hands, however, even the folk tunes "Wild Irish Rose" and "Shenandoah" come across sounding more soulful than sentimental. "Meditation," the pianist's sole contribution to the album, is also worthy of inclusion, providing a haunting interlude amid tunes brimming with quiet pleasures.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8151.)
Marcus Roberts Trio On "In Honor of Duke" (Columbia), pianist Marcus Roberts celebrates the artistry of Duke Ellington with an ambitious suite of original music.
How ambitious? In the liner notes, Roberts boasts that the album "showcases a new trio conception, one in which the bass, drums and piano can share the spotlight equally, without destroying the foundation of support that characterizes a great jazz trio." That claim seems a tad inflated, given the history of egalitarian jazz trios led by Jarrett and others. But Roberts is right in crediting drummer Jason Marsalis, bassist Roland Guerin and guest percussionist Antonio Sanchez for consistently enhancing his music with inventive solos and cohesive interplay.
What really set this Ellington homage apart from the pack, though, is the writing. Roberts not only subtly evokes the master's elegant touch--something he accomplishes as a pianist, composer and arranger--he also uses recurring themes and devices to marvelous effect, creating several musical strands that prevent the suite from unraveling. This is no small task, since the music is stylistically diverse, with New Orleans polyphony, Monkish keyboard abstractions and Coltrane-like chord progressions occasionally influencing Roberts's view of Ellington's legacy. Still, to appreciate the pianist's keen affinity for his subject, one need only listen to the album's bustling title track or its leisurely blues coda, "Nothin' Like it."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.)
Ellis Marsalis In the liner notes to his new album, "Duke in Blue" (Columbia), jazz pianist and family patriarch Ellis Marsalis confesses that he came to embrace Ellington's music only after a youth spent as a dyed-in-the-wool bebopper. Apparently, he's been making up for this lapse ever since.
Intimate and affecting, "Duke in Blue" consists of tunes written or co-written by Ellington save for two tracks: Johnny Hodges' bouncy Ellingtonian theme "Squatty Roo," rendered here with plenty of rhythmic zest; and the album's title track, a blues portrait of the band leader composed by Marsalis.
What remains are mostly familiar tunes--"Caravan," "Sophisticated Lady," "Mood Indigo," among others--and a couple of lesser-known gems, such as the lovely and brooding ballad "Melancholia." The range of material gives Marsalis a chance to stretch out to excellent advantage, revealing by turns his subdued lyricism, agile left hand, swinging pulse and bop-bred harmonic perspective.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)