The Sound Of Passion
The first time I heard some jazz and instantly liked it was when at the home of a much older friend, I heard an album called Witchi-Tai-To. The year was 1976 or ‘77, I think, and I was in Calcutta, a city where the jazz scene was still vibrant with–besides an annual jazz festival and quite a large number of aficionados of the genre–several people, like my friend, who had great collections of jazz albums that were from off the beaten track. Witchi-Tai-To was an album from the Jan Garbarek-Bobo Stenson Quartet, a Scandinavian jazz band with Garbarek on tenor and soprano saxophone, Stenson on the piano, Jon Christensen on drums and Palle Danielsson on bass.
I was in my teens and weaned, till then, on steady doses of hard rock and pop and was just about getting into psychedelic music-a bit of Jefferson Airplane, some Quicksilver Messenger Service, a bit of The Grateful Dead. I’d never heard anything like Witchi-Tai-To. The interplay of the sax and piano, the deep throbbing bass seemingly with a mind of its own, the drum solos… I hadn’t heard anything like that before. I re-heard it recently on the headphones: Garbarek’s astonishingly melodic sax and the quicksilver, form-changing nature of Stenson’s piano still makes it a mind-blowing experience. Witchi-Tai-To was my real entry into the world of jazz. Then, a year or two later, Bobo Stenson visited Calcutta with is band, Rena Rama, which also had Palle Danielsson, and I got to go to the gig and see them in the flesh.
A few years later, another friend (also older and wiser than me) sent me a couple of jazz albums from the States. One of them was the 1973 album, Fort Yawuh by Keith Jarrett, the American pianist and composer who has a classical music background but is a jazz musician. That album was an impetus for yet another digression into jazz, from the rock highway that I was on. Fort Yawuh had long tracks. One of them, De Drums was percussion based. It featured Paul Motian and Danny Johnson and was 12 minutes long and became my favourite track on Fort Yawuh. I had discovered jazz.
Later, I delved into more of Jarrett’s music and albums-his solo live album, The Koln Concert, Bop-Be on which he plays with roughly the same line-up as Fort Yawuh and Facing You, another solo piano album. Jarrett has a versatile repertoire, perhaps because of his training in classical music and, I read, an obsession for demanding that his audience remains absolutely silent. He’s been known to walk off stage if he hears anyone whisper and, I don’t know whether this is apocryphal but at some venues cough drops are dispensed to the audience so that people don’t cough and disturb the maestro when he’s playing.
A few weeks ago, I discovered (or rather everyone discovered) a gem. It was the release by ECM, a venerable jazz label, of an unreleased live concert featuring Keith Jarrett playing in Tokyo in 1979. The album, Sleeper, features Jarrett’s European Quartet band and who do you think that comprises? Well, apart from Jarrett, there is Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen! It’s a dream combo really and brings together four of the finest exponents of jazz. The album is steeped in energy and the dynamic interaction between Jarrett and Garbarek on the one hand and the rhythm combination that Danielsson and Christensen provide makes it an experience that is unforgettable. I am seriously puzzled as to why this recording lay unreleased for 33 years.
Sleeper is a two-disc album, with three tracks on one and four on the other. The tunes are deliciously long, with one of them, Oasis, running into nearly half an hour. If you’re a jazz fan and haven’t heard it, there is no excuse for you not to get it. And, if you don’t care for jazz, and are wondering what this guy is doing writing an entire column about that genre, here’s the thing: one listen to Jarrett’s Sleeper or for that matter to Jan Garbarek’s Witchi-Tai-To could change your views on jazz. Forever.
There are very few soul, jazz and R&B singers who come anywhere close the how the late Nina Simone used to perform on stage. She engaged the audience, talking with them, talking to them and incorporated those interactions into the songs she sang. She died in 2003 at the age of 70 and, although you can listen to several live albums as well as studio recorded ones by Simone, there’s nothing that compares with seeing her live on a stage. Check out Simone’s brilliant performance at the Festival jazz di Antibes in 1969 on YouTube the eight-minute plus song, Four Women. I don’t have words to describe it.