Keith Jarrett
Belonging (1974, ECM)
Recorded 4/24-25, 1974 in Oslo, Norway

Eyes of the Heart (1979, ECM)
Recorded 5/1976 in Bregenz, Austria


You’d be hard pressed to find a harder working jazz artist in the 1970s than Keith Jarrett. Whether it was his solo piano albums or endeavors into the classical world – not to mention performing and recording with two quartets concurrently – Jarrett released no fewer than 30 albums over the entire decade across three different labels.

With a catalogue that vast, it can be difficult to understand his trajectory and impact on jazz once he struck out on his own after an acclaimed stint with the Charles Lloyd Quartet in the late 60s. But a side-by-side comparison of two releases from this era provides a fascinating snapshot of an artist in transition. Belonging captures the unexpected rise of his European quartet while Eyes of the Heart chronicles the fractured final gasps of his American quartet.

Belonging rose out of a suggestion by ECM Records head Manfred Eicher to pair Jarrett with Norwegian saxophonist and labelmate Jan Garbarek. Eicher likely had little idea how immediately fruitful the pairing would be. All recordings here are first takes, and in Ian Carr’s Keith Jarrett biography, Garbarek shares that the entire session was finished in two hours, adding “it was a big thing for me to play with Keith. I loved his music very much, and to have this opportunity – I was so concentrated” (76-77). Even more impressive is the fact that these songs capture the first time the group’s rhythm section – Palle Danielsson on bass and John Christensen on drums – set eyes on the music. Jarrett’s one-take mentality, inspired by his tenure with Miles Davis, makes the music feel especially fresh, light yet fine-tuned.

“Spiral Dance” carries the patient tension of a string slowly being tightened until Garbarek’s sax lightens the proceedings.  Danielsson ably finds his way up and down his bass, with Jarrett comping and Christensen’s drums delightfully coloring along. There seems to be a pervasive spirit of collective listening. “Blossom” in turn shows the quartet’s ability to play slowly and tenderly. The interplay between Garbarek and Jarrett is particularly notable here.

While Belonging signaled a triumphant intro for Jarrett’s new European unit, an ensemble where he didn’t feel the need to constantly be edgy, Eyes of the Heart, recorded in 1976 but not released until 1979, captures the sad denouement of his American Quartet, which included Dewey Redman on sax, Charlie Haden on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.

A double disc that only contains three sides, Eyes of the Heart was supposed to include a performance of the group’s acclaimed “Survivors’ Suite.” However, as Jarrett reveals in Carr’s biography, group miscommunication marred their performance that evening in Austria.

This moment comes into focus on side two, which starts with a seeking vamp, similarly somber to side one but with rays of sunshine sprinkled at the intro. Motian appears in a flash, brash cymbal crashes and snare rolls adding a shade of urgency. Jarrett’s solo widens the scope, pleading with a wider tonal palette, then ruminates again. With no context, he’s voicing uncertainty; knowing the backstory, it becomes apparent this is where Jarrett’s waiting, ever more impatiently, for input from Redman that never arrives. The piano fades to one phrase, then opens again – to no avail.

When Redman finally plays, to heavy applause, his lines soar, power notes and speedy runs. There’s a touch of Eastern mysticism and a hazy distance that adds tinges of exotic danger to his horns as it bites more, unraveling bitter spits amidst cluttered, musical wayfinding. Motian’s whole body is into the kit.

The evening’s missed connections converge in a powerful way on side three, comprised of three encores. “Encore-a” pounds with joy. The quartet feels careless and home free. There’s an ecstatic undertone, Jarrett’s gospel-esque voicings inspiring Motian to action like a Quaker shaking down the aisle, his hands delivering patient electricity. “Encore-B” showcases Redman and Jarrett trading phrasings, a sometimes playful back-and-forth that also carries tense undertones. It’s Jarrett at solo piano for “Encore C.” Knowing the context now – that the group would be no more in a month’s time – it’s hard not to hear his finale like a parting kiss. Applause, and on to the next for Jarrett.

When asked about the recording, Jarrett told Carr “ ‘I remember too vividly how stupid that whole situation was. I can’t listen to the music objectively. All I do remember is why that vamp is so long, and why this was happening.’” Carr adds “That experience had made him realize he was ‘alone out there’ and that it was not a quartet any more” (83). For these reasons, Jarrett asked ECM head Manfred Eicher to initially withhold release, though he did finally relent.

In the years since, Jarrett has found worldwide acclaim with yet another group, his Standards Trio featuring Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Compared to the acoustic, more classicist approach of this ensemble, it can be striking how wide-open Jarrett’s work once was with his American quartet, and how greatly varied his output was in the first decade of his experience as a bandleader.

When diving into the American quartet, Expectations is a great entry point that helps preface their masterful album The Survivors’ Suite. If you like what you hear on Belonging, Personal Mountains showcases the European Quartet’s fabulous interplay live.

Words by Brandon Roos – 2019