For the past three decades, the music of pianist Keith Jarrett has been exhibited in two primary settings — a solo piano environment that capitalizes on his extraordinary gifts as an improviser, and in a trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, exploring new voices for jazz and pop standards. The wonderful duo interplay between Jarrett and bass great Charlie Haden on the 2010 album Jasmine suggests that a third setting could surface.
But during the latter half of the '70s, there also was an outstanding quartet that mixed hard bop expression, bold improvisational exploits and the lyricism inherent in all of Jarrett's playing.
That band — which featured saxophonist (and longtime ECM mate) Jan Garbarek, along with the rhythm section of bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen — was exhibited on a pair of fine studio recordings (1975's Belonging and, in what is perhaps the ensemble's finest hour, 1978's My Song) plus an overlooked concert set (1980's Nude Ants) before largely fading from view as the decade drew to a close.
To that somewhat limited catalogue we can now add Sleeper, a previously unreleased concert recording forged from an April 1979 date in Tokyo — a performance held only a month before the Village Vanguard shows that make up Nude Ants. But, if anything, the musicianship and interplay sound fresher and more expansive on Sleeper.
Part of that is because we haven't heard any new music, archival or otherwise, from this quartet in more than 30 years. One can't help but approach Sleeper with fresh ears. But there is no denying the textures and temperaments that are continually shuffled during the seven tunes the quartet spreads over Sleeper's two discs.
The 21-minute album-opener Personal Mountains begins with a deep percussive piano rumble that one might associate with Jarrett's solo piano works. But in time, Christensen locks down a light, unobtrusive groove that sets the stage for Garbarek's rich tenor sax lead. The tune then takes all kinds of boppish turns, allowing Garbarek to switch to a more fanciful stride on soprano sax before decelerating into the more whispery tenor/piano dialogue of Innocence.
Other highlights include Jarrett's feathery piano support for a rugged Danielson bass intro on Prism (the two then effortlessly reverse roles), the piano-less percussive chant dominated by flute and bowed bass that dominates the first half of the 28-minute Oasis, and the richly melodic coda of New Dance.
It's an immensely satisfying adventure, one that took about 90 minutes to make and 33 years to release. Still, what a treat it is to hear Sleeper awaken.