by Phil Freeman
Considering the size of his discography and his prominence in the world of jazz, I haven’t really spent very much time at all listening to Keith Jarrett. I reviewed one of his solo discs for Jazziz back in 2006, and obviously I’ve heard his electric work with Miles Davis. I tried listening to some of the early “Standards Trio” recordings, but the humming, buzzing vocal thing he does became so distracting I couldn’t even hear the piano anymore—it was like trying to listen to music with a dragonfly zooming around my head. But a while ago, I read this excellent interview that Ethan Iverson conducted with Jarrett, and it made me want to check out the ’70s American quartet (Dewey Redman on sax, Charlie Haden on bass, Paul Motian on drums), a group I’d never gotten around to before then. So I picked up the two boxes Impulse! devoted to that group’s output. The first one covered 1973 and 1974, the second one covered 1975-77, and both included a bunch of bonus tracks. (All of this material is now available in a single eight-disc box; get it from Amazon.)
What follows are my impressions of those eight albums, written as a kind of first-draft daily exercise. (The group also made three albums for Atlantic, one of which was a trio date without Redman, one for Columbia and two for ECM; I have never heard any of those.)
Fort Yawuh is a double live album recorded at the Village Vanguard. It starts with “(If the) Misfits (Wear It),” a long and winding keyboard excursion that eventually gives way to a full-on rampage by the other three bandmembers. Redman’s tenor sax solo is full of honks and farts at the bottom of the instrument’s range, and at one point he even begins shouting through the reed, a fairly convincing display of abandon. Jarrett picks up a musette late in Redman’s solo spot and begins duetting with him. Meanwhile, Haden and Motian are going berserk in the back—Haden’s bass playing is as powerful as it was on Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, and Motian is positively assaulting the kit, sounding almost like Max Roach at times the way he crushes the toms. The piece ends with Jarrett and Redman duetting on sax and musette, tackling that long, intricate melody with total precision. It’s a pretty ballistic first number, and it sets everything else up very nicely.
The title track is next, a ballad on which Jarrett’s piano is initially challenged by what sounds like a cuatro, a four-stringed guitar heard in salsa and other Latin music (it’s actually Jarrett himself, plucking the piano’s strings), plus percussion—in addition to the four members cited above, percussionist Danny Johnson is also present on this date. Then there’s a brief passage of nothing but “little instruments” (shakers and tiny cymbals) before the piece gets rolling with a churning, surprisingly powerful piano solo. I’ve always thought of Jarrett as a somewhat fussy player, more concerned with baroque classical melodies than really gettin’ it pumpin’, but apparently back in the ’70s he could kick ass when he wanted to. He starts singing along with himself a little bit here, but not enough so that it becomes bothersome. And when Redman comes in, playing a ballad melody atop Jarrett’s lushly rippling piano and Haden’s throbbing bass, with Motian offering a series of small eruptions rather than attempting to impose a rhythm on the slowly expanding music, this piece really turns into something beautiful. Redman takes a sharp, piercing reed solo around 11 minutes in, as the rhythm section gets all North African behind him—initially at least, this blending of desert music with post-bop built around Jarrett’s weird, almost prog-rock melodic concept is what’s most interesting about this band. There are times when they almost reconcile the two sides, but then they seem to consciously decide to let them just coexist, as when Redman’s solo ends and Jarrett comes in with some almost Wyndham Hill piano. This piece seems to end about four times, though—one of the perils of live albums. Shaving off the last three or four minutes, even if it meant losing some Philip Glass-esque stuff in the last two, would have done the piece as a whole a service.
“De Drums” is the most overtly ’70s track on Fort Yawuh, to my ear. The piano line Jarrett’s playing as it begins reminds me of Linda Ronstadt and Carole King songs I used to hear as a child, on the radio stations my mom liked. As it develops, though, the melody becomes much more like a Steely Dan thing, with Redman’s bluesy/gospelish solo only adding to that impression. Now, I know Walter Becker and Donald Fagen heisted part of the song “Gaucho” from a Jarrett tune called “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours,” which I’ve never heard. But that was in 1980, and this track, which is from 1973, would seem to point to Jarrett’s work being a long-time influence on Steely Dan, which is interesting. I’m intrigued to see if this shows up on the quartet’s studio albums.
“Still Life, Still Life” is a very deliberate, careful piano ballad with a solo from Redman that doesn’t even sound like him—it sounds like John Coltrane circa Crescent. Motian concentrates on his cymbals, and Haden pulls on the bass strings like they owe him money. The sound of the rhythm section is one of the things that really anchors this music in the ’70s, by the way; Haden’s bass seems artificially thickened, and Motian’s drums are all reverby and resonant, like those of a rock drummer. This piece was cut off by an editor, and rather clumsily—the last note of music heard is one from Haden, and it’s not a resolving note, it sounds like there should be something coming next. Plus, there’s no applause afterward. But hey, it was 1973, and vinyl had much greater limitations than CDs, so eight minutes and change was all there was room for. I wonder, though, why it wasn’t restored to its full length on CD. Perhaps the tapes were lost?
The album’s final track is the side-long, nearly 21-minute “Roads Traveled, Roads Veiled.” It’s a weird one, with the baroque, free and exotic aspects of the band all coming into play at once. Trancey, mantra-like bass, extra percussion, ripples-on-a-pond piano, and Redman soloing in a free yet somehow restrained, even when shrieking, manner that reminds me of Pharoah Sanders’ late ’60s/early ’70s work (Live at the East, Black Unity, Summun Bukmun Umyun, etc.), especially when Jarrett joins him on soprano sax.
On the boxed set, this album is expanded to a two-CD set, with alternate takes of “(If the) Misfits (Wear It)” and “De Drums” plus three other tunes—“Whistle Tune,” “Angles (Without Edges)” and “Melting the Ice.” I’m gonna limit myself to discussing what was on the original albums, though.
Treasure Island was the first studio release on Impulse! by this band, and it featured a few guests: two percussionists (Danny Johnson and Guilherme Franco) and guitarist Sam Brown. The first track, “The Rich (and the Poor),” is a bluesy ballad with tons of space in the mix for a thick Charlie Haden bass line and some very pretty piano and saxophone work. Jarrett sings a little, but only a little, and when the band gets all gospel-y around the six-and-a-half minute mark, it’s pretty hot. Not hot enough to justify the yelping and whooping heard in the background, but nice. What keeps jumping out at me about this song, though (and much of this album), is how astonishingly ’70s it is. It sounds like it should be playing over helicopter shots of one of New York’s outer borough neighborhoods, as the closing credits roll on a Norman Lear sitcom.
The callbacks to my childhood (I was born at the tail end of 1971) continue on “Blue Streak,” the piano line of which starts out in almost Vince Guaraldi territory—Guaraldi being best known, of course, for his theme music to various Charlie Brown cartoons. When Dewey Redman comes in, it gets a little more rugged, but given that it’s only two and a half minutes long and fades out, this feels like more soundtrack music. Oh, and there’s a really annoying percussion instrument in the background throughout—it’s called the cuica. Airto Moreira used to use it a lot when he was with Miles Davis’s band. It sounds like a whining dog.
The ridiculously titled “Fullsuvolivus (Fools of All of Us)” is up next, a very energetic and surprisingly (within the context of this album) free eruption. It must be said that Jarrett is outclassed, in the aggression department, by both Redman and Haden, but he holds his own. The percussionists contribute rattles, whistling and hooting from the background, almost acting like a Greek chorus at times. This track kinda sticks out after the first two, but it’s pretty great.
The title cut is up next, and it’s another Super Sounds of the ’70s special. Redman absents himself, leaving Jarrett to duet with Sam Brown, and between the ultra-smooth guitar sound and the semi-soulful melody, this song could easily have gotten on the radio right in between Chuck Mangione and Steely Dan (again, the influence, particularly in the piano and guitar sound, is inescapable).
“Introduction/Yaqui Indian Folk Song” is very pretty. But it’s so short, and so focused on melody, I wonder why Redman felt the need to play anything at all on the track.
“Le Mistral” is the opposite, the longest track on the album and the funkiest. The group gets into a pretty heavy Latin groove, with lots of percussion (and even some gym-coach whistles in the background) over another thick-as-cooling-asphalt Haden bass line. He’s so huge in the mix on these albums, it really boggles my mind that in more recent years bass players have been turned down in the name of—what? Naturalism? Bah! Gimme big loud throbbing bass!
“Angles (Without Edges)” is another semi-free piece with almost no Redman until the very end—Haden takes a great solo, then Redman and Jarrett duet on reeds to take the track out, which is totally unexpected given everything that’s come before. You would think Redman would have at least taken part in stating the melody up front if he was gonna show up at the end, but it’s like a surprise walk-on at the end of a sitcom or something.
“Sister Fortune” closes the album with another radio-friendly exercise in soft-jazz-rock groove including tastefully stinging guitar from Brown, subtle Latin percussion and a nice beat Elton John could have sung over.
Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how utterly ’70s Treasure Island is. It’s got some really good moments, but at other times it’s so much like a time machine journey back to when I was growing up on Staten Island and in suburban New Jersey, watching reruns of All In The Family and Barney Miller and Taxi on TV after school, that it gives me laughing fits. This is some Schoolhouse Rock type stuff.
Up next: Back Hand, the first of two albums from a single set of 1974 sessions and an album whose title seems to encapsulate the band’s attitude toward their listeners—they really seem to be giving us the back of their hand on much of this disc.
We begin with “Inflight,” a nine-minute sprint on which Jarrett’s piano playing is based around stride rhythms, while Redman spins out a long and complicated melody. The two compete for space, playing aggressively and rather freely for the full length of the piece as Haden and Motian spin their wheels in back. This track is another one that reminds me of Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction, in large part because Haden and Redman are playing in a manner similar to what they offered on that album and Broken Shadows—bluesy and hard-swinging, but also seeming to hover in place rather than charge forward. Despite Jarrett’s frenetic outpouring of notes, the piece seems static; it never goes anywhere, though it’s very pretty and a lot of fun while it lasts.
“Kuum” begins with some sort of wooden flute and various shakers and hand-held percussion devices. Haden starts bowing madly as the flute offers endless repetitive variations on a single phrase that eventually give way to long breathy tones. Eventually, Haden stops bowing and begins plucking the bass, and it sounds like metal cables being hit with a wrench. There’s lots of percussion all around him (including that annoying squiggly cuica), and occasional outbursts from reed and/or flute. No piano at all. This is the sort of thing a live audience would put up with, but does it belong on a studio album, particularly for almost 12 minutes? I’m not sure. It’s not something I’d listen to twice.
The album’s third track, “Vapallia,” is piano trio plus percussion, very melodic and baroque and easily the most conventionally beautiful track thus far. My guess is that it probably kicked off Side Two on vinyl.
The title track (sort of—it’s written as “Backhand,” but the album cover has the two-word version) sends Jarrett back into Vince Guaraldi territory, and when he and Redman duet on the melody it’s very nice stuff indeed. Later on, it gets even better; Jarrett’s solo is like a waterfall landing on highly polished glass, sending bright outbursts of light shimmering in all directions. Very nice. I’m not sure whether Paul Motian did something to piss off the engineer or this was just The Way Things Were Done in the early ’70s, but he’s way too far back in the mix to have any real impact on things. I’m willing to believe that his bandmates could hear him at the time Back Hand was recorded, but those of us experiencing it after the fact would like to know he had more than cymbals at his disposal. Also, this track could have been less than 11 minutes long, but I’m not sure what I’d cut.
This is definitely my least favorite of the albums thus far. As enjoyable as some parts of Back Hand are, they seem mostly to be recordings of the musicians playing for themselves and each other, rather than the listener, especially “Kuum,” and frankly, they disappear from memory almost as soon as they’re over.
Now for Death and the Flower, recorded at the same sessions as Back Hand. This disc only has three tracks; the nearly 23-minute title track, the 10-minute “Prayer” and the almost nine-minute “Great Bird.” The first of these starts with percussion and flute, but before long Charlie Haden comes in with some very nice, seemingly Indian-influenced bass plucking, and when the piano and saxophone join (with Paul Motian in back focusing on cymbals and bells and stuff rather than drums) it reminds me more of John Coltrane’s 1961 Village Vanguard recordings than anything I’ve previously heard from this group. More or less at the 10-minute mark, Motian begins enforcing rhythm, and the piece starts to pull together—it’s been quite beautiful in a meditative way all along, but almost exactly at the halfway mark, it starts to swing. Jarrett spins out a few phrases that remind me of Billy Joel at around the 15-minute mark, which (astonishingly, I know) I don’t mean in a bad way—you’re just gonna have to take my word for it. This whole piece is excellent, except for Haden’s solo, which doesn’t really go anywhere, and the transition to a suddenly much more uptempo and active mode in the last three minutes, which works but seems unnecessary. As with “Kuum” from Back Hand, it seems like these guys weren’t always able to tell the difference between the kind of thing that can work really well in a live context and the more concise, singular ideas that make for good album tracks.
“Prayer” is almost a solo piano track, except for some barely perceptible bass in the deep background starting around the halfway mark. It’s really beautiful, and I don’t have much more to say about it than that. It’s one of the best tracks from this whole string of albums so far.
“Great Bird” gets everybody going right away—piano, bass, drums, tables or bongos, and two saxophones, which must have been overdubbed afterward, because in the past, Jarrett has played soprano sax only when not playing piano. In this case, the piano continues as two saxophones duet with each other in the far left and far right corners of the mix. At some point the cuica makes another appearance, and at this point I’ve decided it sounds more like a small monkey than a dog, for what that’s worth. It’s still annoying. “Great Bird” surges and drops back, waxes and wanes, finally ending with everybody slowly dropping away except for the percussionist(s) and Haden. It’s a nice piece, a great counterpart to “Prayer,” and it ends this album very naturally. Other than a few missteps on the title track (notably, the bass solo and the final fast section), Death And The Flower is probably the best of the albums so far. At worst, it’s a tie between this one and Fort Yawuh, and that’s only because Fort Yawuh is a double album with more really good tracks to choose from.
Shades is another four-song disc, two per vinyl side, recorded in 1975 along with its follow-up, Mysteries. It begins with the semi-title track, “Shades of Jazz,” a fast 10-minute number on which Jarrett and Dewey Redman state the melody, whereupon the saxophonist does a fast fade, leaving the music in the hands of the core trio. And you know what that means—plenty of Jarrett humming and buzzing as he dances on the keys. The piano playing is excellent, but that damn dragonfly just won’t leave the studio. In any case, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian set up a powerful groove that swings so hard it’s almost dance music. Redman reappears just after the halfway mark, and tears into a solo that sends the whole thing rocketing skyward. There’s some free/avant-garde skronk to his solo, but for the most part it’s very bluesy, almost reminding me of John Coltrane’s 1950s Prestige recordings, and the rhythm section kicks it out as furiously behind him as they did behind Jarrett. This is a red-hot track, and a great start to the album.
The second track, “Southern Smiles,” is similar in structure, but in execution it’s less headlong and more relaxed and groovin’ than “Shades of Jazz,” as its title might indicate.
The disc’s second half begins with “Rose Petals,” a free ballad reminiscent of late Coltrane both in the way that Motian is all over the kit, Rashied Ali style, and in the way Redman launches straight from the melody into a wide-ranging, tonally exploratory and yet also quite introspective solo. When Jarrett takes over the spotlight, he’s subdued to a nearly cocktail-lounge degree, and Motian immediately settles down, switching to brushes and effectively turning it into a whole different song. At about the six-minute mark (of a nine-minute piece), Haden gets his first solo of the album, and he keeps it super-spare, letting each note ring out as the microphone captures every slide of his fingers up and down the strings and Motian and Jarrett support him with chimes and delicate, almost classical piano. The momentum and energy build very gradually, and everybody, Redman included comes together to take the piece out at a slow but intense burn, with Motian returning to free time as things wind up.
“Diatribe,” which closes the album, is sort of a combination of everything that’s come before. The melody is winding and herky-jerky at once, like a circus fanfare, but the band gets very free immediately after the initial statement, with Haden switching between rapid, forceful plucking and fierce work with the bow, as Motian and Jarrett tear it up on either side of him. Jarrett in particular is really pounding away, heading almost into Cecil Taylor territory. Redman’s solo is a festival of growl and skronk, basically prefiguring Charles Gayle, and there’s both drumming and other percussion behind him, making for a ferocious overall attack that reminds me of the title track from Archie Shepp’s The Magic Of Ju-Ju, where he rips and roars for something like 20 minutes over a never-ending stream of rhythm. Jarrett has another go at the keyboard at around the six-minute mark, thundering on the far left side in a way that’ll bounce you out of your chair if you’ve got big enough speakers. But rather than convulse and carom all the way to the end, they bring it home traditionally, returning to the melody and letting a few reverbed notes from Haden’s bass be the final sounds heard.
This is an excellent record. It’s definitely the farthest out I’ve heard the group go so far (I don’t think most people would even ID “Diatribe” as a Jarrett track if you played it for them cold), and it’s making me really look forward to Mysteries, also recorded in 1975.
Mysteries contains four more longish tracks—three of ’em pass the ten-minute mark, with only “Flame” coming in at a relatively concise-seeming (until you hear it, that is) six minutes.
It kicks off with “Rotation,” a fast and free 11-minute track that feels like a rehash of stuff that’s come before, particularly on Shades. The melody’s not all that memorable, and Dewey Redman’s solos don’t really jump out from the whole. An inauspicious beginning.
“Everything That Lives, Laments” starts off well, with some deep resonant blowing from Redman over typically lush ballad playing from Jarrett and some free but not scattered drumming from Paul Motian. Charlie Haden gets a solo spot very early, only about a minute into the piece. Jarrett takes over pretty quickly, though, heading into cruise-ship dinner music territory as Motian sets up a shuffling, brushed drum pattern behind him. Soon enough, the energy builds, and the solo becomes something serious, with Haden digging a deep groove alongside. Right around the six-minute mark, Redman rejoins the party with a John Coltrane-ish (circa, say, 1964) solo, but a couple of minutes later Jarrett decides to kick things up a notch, doubling his speed and energy. It doesn’t work; just like when they’ve pulled this trick on earlier albums, it feels like a mistake, an inability to stick to one mood for the length of a piece that undermines the whole. The group returns to ballad playing in the final stretch, though, and manages to recover.
“Flame” is six minutes of keening flute and reed stuff over twangy bass and hand percussion and what sounds like steel drums. It’s okay as Middle Eastern-derived squawking goes, but it’s not something I’d be likely to listen to again.
The album concludes with the 15-minute title track, a super-lush ballad—music to slow-dance to in fancy clothes, except for the percussion (shakers, bells, that fucking cuica) that throws unexpected and sometimes jarring notes into the mix, as it’s done throughout almost every one of these albums. (I just haven’t bothered to mention it.) Jarrett’s solo seems more like a collection of loosely related phrases, building to a stream of notes, than a considered and developed idea. Indeed, the whole track just kind of rolls endlessly on, never progressing to any real resolution, just going and going and going until eventually everyone but Jarrett stops playing, as though they’ve walked away bored, and then he dribbles out a few final, timidly vibrating notes, and the track and the album are over.
I suppose I could program my CD player to skip “Flame” and this would turn into an enjoyable 35 minutes or so of music, but it’s very low-impact. Nothing jumps out, nothing makes any greater statement than “we all play our instruments very well and can read each other well enough to make seamless transitions and take the dominant or backing role with no stumbles or hesitation.” Which is the core of jazz technique, but there’s got to be some emotional resonance there, too, and on Mysteries there just isn’t any—it’s virtuosity without feeling, and it slides right by like balls of mercury on a marble floor.
The quartet’s next album, Byablue, was released in early 1977. The most immediately noticeable thing about Byablue is how many tracks it has, and how short they are. Where the last three albums (Death And The Flower, Mysteries and Shades) had only three or four cuts each, Byablue has seven, only one fewer than the super-accessible Treasure Island. This may have something to do with the fact that with the exception of “Konya” and “Rainbow,” all the pieces on Byablue were written by Paul Motian. And while it’s not an exercise in melody and finger-poppin’ rhythm like TI, Byablue is definitely one of this group’s prettier outings—for the most part, anyway.
The opening title track (one of two versions that bracket the disc) is seven minutes of somewhat fractured, Ornette-derived blues, supported by heavy bass drum work from Motian—he’s really kicking hard down there. Jarrett’s piano is off-kilter, the most Monk-like I’ve ever heard him be, but without losing touch with the melody. Indeed, he hangs onto it with remarkable tenacity, looping around again and again. Redman’s solo is filled with raw, crying emotion, but there’s something peevish about it, too; it reminds me of a toddler demanding attention.
The second piece, “Konya,” is one of those mantra-like reed exercises this band does from time to time, with Redman and Jarrett both keening and droning at each other as Motian smashes the cymbals and little chimes flutter in the back. If I didn’t know I was listening to a Keith Jarrett album, this could easily be by Roscoe Mitchell the way both reed players seem intent on squeezing every molecule of air out of their lungs with each variation of the melody line they play. Haden’s bowed bass adds one more drone to the mix as the piece ends.
The album really kicks into gear with “Rainbow,” a nearly nine-minute piano trio piece that features some really strong, rippling piano work, plus the return of Keith The Singing Hummingbird. Seriously, this track swings really nicely, with Jarrett’s piano and Haden’s bass taking up almost equal space in the mix and Motian’s delicately brushed drums the perfect rhythmic foundation, like walking on a bed of fresh-mown but dry grass.
Redman makes a brief appearance at the beginning, but for much of its length, “Trieste” is another piano trio piece, and an extraordinarily beautiful one at that. Motian plays like he’s dusting the kit rather than attempting to actually get sounds out of it (though he’s still kicking the bass drum more frequently than one might expect for a super-attenuated jazz ballad), and Haden makes a late entrance, but eventually takes a solo at around the six-minute mark that almost sounds like he’s tuning the bass with the tapes rolling. When he settles into a groove, Jarrett comes in behind him with tiny right-hand ripples that build into a classical-style crescendo. Redman finally reappears about 90 seconds before the end, spinning out blues connotations to little effect. He’s playing fine, but saying so little that he’s the weak link on the track.
This is followed by the minute-long “Fantasm,” about which extended comment would be superfluous. It sounds like a finger-loosening exercise; Motian doesn’t even play, and it ends abruptly.
“Yahllah” begins by bringing back the chimes and the reeds and some woodblock percussion, and lasts eight and a half minutes overall. But don’t be discouraged. The droney Middle Eastern stuff only lasts about two minutes. Then Jarrett starts playing some extremely deliberate, very beautiful unaccompanied piano for a minute or so. Then Motian starts beating out a pretty interesting, almost funk-rock rhythm, whereupon…aw, crap! Bowed bass and more of that goddamn snake-charmer reed! The piano was a trick; we’re back to the desert. And then at the six-minute mark, we change up again, with soprano sax and chimes and some forcefully strummed bass, which is nice enough until the snake-charming starts again. I would never dare to second-guess these guys’ interest in Middle Eastern music, but I think they vastly overestimated the average listener’s interest in it.
Byablue concludes with a solo piano version of its title piece, with lots of really nice sustained notes that almost create a droning rhythm all their own as Jarrett picks his way through the melody much more slowly than at the album’s outset, delving very slightly into dissonance in his explorations and extrapolations. When he starts singing along with himself, it’s in such a high register and so much clearer than usual that it’s almost like a female vocalist has been brought in, and it’s the first time his voice has added anything to the group’s music. A really nice conclusion to a really solid album.
The group’s final Impulse! recording was Bop-Be, about which there’s actually not that much to say. Bop-Be has seven shortish tracks, once again almost all composed by members of the band other than Jarrett. The pianist contributes only the title piece, and for the first time on any of these albums, an outside composition is performed—“Blackberry Winter.”
“Mushi Mushi” is a Dewey Redman composition, punchy and swinging, with an opening blues-blast from him which is followed by a rockin ’n’ rollin’, classical-meets-gospel solo from Jarrett and some excellent breaking down of the rhythm by Paul Motian and Charlie Haden in the track’s final 90 seconds or so. It’s a solid opener with vocal in-studio enthusiasm from the bandmembers that’s totally deserved.
“Silence” is almost the exact opposite, an ultra-tender ballad that pretty much lives up to its name. Redman’s blowing so softly he barely vibrates the reed, Motian limits himself to cymbals, and Jarrett makes simple melodic statements with little adornment. It’s a quick, placid three minutes.
“Bop-Be” is a swinging piano trio piece; Jarrett spins out long ribbons of notes, returning to the melody like a runner grabbing cups of water as he circles the track at top speed. It sort of reminds me of the standard “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” It’s seven minutes long, but seems to fly by.
The next track, “Pyramids Moving,” is another in this group’s series of Middle Eastern sound explorations. Shrill reeds, bowed bass slathered in a weird distancing reverb, equally echoey cymbals and percussion, piano that sounds more like a celeste or a spinet—this is actually one of the weirdest avant pieces the group has offered throughout this eight-album run. It’s like music from a horror movie set in Egypt; it makes me want to look over my shoulder in case a mummy’s coming.
The nearly 11-minute “Gotta Get Some Sleep” is up next, a swinging romp that does relatively little to distinguish itself, despite offering solos for everyone but Motian. Redman is in ’50s Coltrane mode, though the melody is bouncier and slightly more jagged than you’d hear on a Prestige date of that vintage.
“Blackberry Winter” is another trio piece, a ballad this time. It’s very pretty.
The album’s final track, “Pocketful Of Cherry,” is a Charlie Haden composition written in tribute to Don Cherry, his former collaborator in Ornette Coleman’s band from 1959 to 1961, and it’s very much in the vein of that group’s work. The melody leaps right out at you, and Redman’s solo has a lot of Ornette—and a lot of his own work beside Coleman—in it. Haden, too, sounds like he’s flashing right back to 1959 as he pops the strings and swings with ferocious energy. In keeping with the Ornette Coleman feel, there’s no piano on the track; Jarrett plays soprano saxophone, squeaking and burbling along in such a way that you can almost imagine a joyful, yet focused smile on his face. Motian’s solo reminds me a little bit of Ed Blackwell, but I also hear Max Roach in the way he plays melodies on the drums. The songs swings hard all the way to the end, and that’s all there is.
Bop-Be is a weird album, precisely because (“Pyramids Moving” excepted) it’s so straight-ahead. The two trio pieces and “Silence” could be played in a restaurant without disturbing anyone’s dinner, and “Mushi Mushi” and “Gotta Get Some Sleep” are like what you’d get if you asked someone who’d never spent any serious time listening to jazz, “What does jazz sound like?” Even “Pocketful Of Cherry” is so happy and eager to please it’s amazing the quartet didn’t show up on Sesame Street, performing it for a crowd of madly dancing Muppets and small children. I’m left wondering why they chose to go out on such a crowd-pleasing note, and (because I’m listening to this stuff thirty-plus years later) what kind of numbers it actually did.
So there you go: eight albums, each one substantially different from the others but obviously recognizable as the work of the same group, and all worthwhile. Hope you enjoyed the ride!