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Critic's pick: Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motain — 'Hamburg '72'

Critic's Pick

Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian

Hamburg '72

Hamburg '72, a remarkable archival find from the vaults of ECM Records, begins innocently enough with a piano melody from Keith Jarrett that dances about with the quiet immediacy of his masterful solo improvisation recordings. Then, as the rhythm section lightly falls into place, a lyrical stride emerges that recalls Jarrett's long-running Standards Trio.

Such instances, however, serve as the proverbial calm before the storm. This isn't a new work by the Standards Trio but a recording of a 42-year-old German radio broadcast at the NDR-Jazz Workshop with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. Any pastoral suggestion is shattered by passages of free-style improvisation (with Jarrett on soprano saxophone), subtle Eastern instrumentation (with Jarrett on flute) and rich, churchy duets that place Haden in the driver's seat (with Jarrett bashing away on tambourine). Best of all, the music winds up sounding as though it was recorded last week.

ECM chieftain Manfred Eicher began work remixing the analog sources of Hamburg '72 in July — to be specific, the day after Haden's death. That's just the beginning of the coincidental time lines that run behind the scenes of this music. There is also the fact that this performance paralleled the 1972 release of Facing You, the solo piano record that began an alliance between Jarrett, Eicher and ECM that continues to this day. It also represents the trio's only showing on the label, although it appeared several times on ECM albums augmented by saxophonist Dewey Redman as a Jarrett band often referred to as the American Quartet.

That leaves us with an invaluable timepiece of a recording. Jarrett reveals an already complete piano voice during the lovely, low stroll of Take Me Back, first released on the 1972 Columbia album Expectations and one of four Jarrett originals featured in this performance. But the tune quickly builds into a playful, rolling trade-off with Haden marked by frequent punctuations from the pianist on tambourine. It nicely approximates gospel as well as loose, uproarious swing.

The interplay builds to a 15-minute workout of Haden's Song for Che, which runs from a percussion-accented solo by the composer full of elastic color to a scorched exchange led by intermittent screams from Jarrett on soprano sax. Then it's back to another merry piano outburst before returning to the same cricketlike chirping of bass and percussion that first distinguished the tune.

It's tempting to view this music as a eulogy to Haden or, for that matter, Motian, who died in November 2011. But even though Jarrett remains the trio's lone surviving torchbearer, the music of Hamburg '72 is the product of a group spirit rich with a jazz urgency that is truly ageless.

Walter Tunis, Contributing Music Critic

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