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Aside from their alliance as bandmates on the ECM label, Keith Jarrett and David Torn exhibit little stylistic simpatico. But on their newest recordings, that very distinction expands the art of solo performance.
During the past four decades, Jarrett has come to define the role of modern piano improviser, infusing his solo concerts with impressionistic rapture and chamberlike completeness. Torn is more of a sculptor whose solo work welds together shards of electric ambience, unrest and distortion for an unclassifiable sound both delicate and disturbing.
Each artist regularly performs and records in collaborative settings. But on their splendid new ECM releases, Jarrett and Torn explore their opposing musical worlds on their own.
Jarrett's Creation differs from his other solo piano albums in design as well as temperament. In the past, his solo concerts have been preserved in essentially complete form regardless of length (1978's infamous Sun Bear Concerts even went so far as to chronicle five full concerts on 10 LPs).
Creation instead opts for selections pulled from spring and summer 2014 performances in Tokyo, Toronto, Paris and Rome.
Obviously, the full continuity of a singular concert is absent. But in its place is a nine-part suite rich in exploratory texture that possesses a flow quite separate from the concerts themselves.
You hear a gorgeous transition, for instance, from the opening Toronto excerpt, which establishes a subtle but brooding tension, to the balletlike grace of the Tokyo performance. It's as if someone opened the curtains and let the sun pour in.
While Creation has its darker moments (Parts VII and VIII, both from the Rome concert, sound beautifully turbulent yet still pastoral), the overall feel is lighter and more understated than the music on many Jarrett piano records.
With hints of Jarrett's debut ECM album Facing You also bubbling under the surface, Creation is a summation as well as reflection of a champion improviser's musical intuition at work.
Torn's Only Sky oozes in with waves of plaintive electric sound, an ambience that howls in the background before serving as a choral effect for the jagged and sometimes industrial guitar sounds Torn detonates on top of the music.
There are echoes of Robert Fripp and ECM veteran Terje Rypdal within sound sculpture pieces like At Least There Was Nothing, which zooms into the audio cosmos before Torn pulls the music back to earth with Eastern colors on the oud, a lutelike instrument that is the only real non-guitar voice on the record.
But Torn manipulates sound so completely throughout Only Sky that guitar takes on keyboard, string and even percussive qualities. Yet on Spoke With Folks, his sound is laid almost bare with a chattering, chiming folk melody that serves as a rootsy retreat in the eye of this sonic hurricane.
Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic