Keith Jarrett: The Survivors' Suite


The Survivor's Suite


Keith Jarrett (piano, soprano sax, bass recorder, celeste, osi drums)


The Survivor's Suite (ECM 1085)

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Keith Jarrett (piano, soprano sax, bass recorder, celeste, osi drums), Dewey Redman (tenor sax, percussion), Charlie Haden (bass), Paul Motian (drums, percussion).

Composed by Keith Jarrett


Recorded: Ludwigsburg, Germany, April, 1976


Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

As with so many other Jarrett extended combo works from this period (such as "Mysteries" and "Death and the Flower"), The Survivors' Suite takes on a majestic (and sometimes somber) ceremonial tone. Listening to this performance, I can't help recalling anthropologist Victor Turner's emphasis on the linkages between artistic performance and rituals, connections that have slowly been drained out of art-making in the postmodern era, where the sting of irony seems ever present. The Survivors' Suite, in contrast, is an irony-free zone, music-making as serious as the title might indicate.

The first movement's opening is almost an invocation, a summoning of spirits. The piano does not show up until almost nine minutes into the performance. But this is no surprise to listeners familiar with the work of Jarrett's so-called "American Quartet," which was a master of the slow build, of a gradually intensifying soundscape. Nothing is rushed here, and as in a ritual, even the smallest gesture resonates with rich layers of meaning. The second movement is freer and fiercer, a shaman's possession dance which resists limits and constraints, yet still retains its larger-than-life ceremonial aspects. Even when the tonal center emerges, and the chord changes return to guide the performance to its terminus, this sense of transcendence remains.

Those who know Jarrett through his solo piano efforts or his well-documented trio work should familiarize themselves with this piece, and the American Quartet's other works from the era. You may be surprised at how generously (and movingly) Jarrett sublimates his own pianism to a larger sense of combo and composition. All too soon, this period in his career would pass. Shortly after this recording, this fertile ensemble disbanded and Jarrett headed off in other directions.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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