Keith Jarrett Lives in the Past with Standards Trio

Keith_Jarrett_YesterdaysKeith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Yesterdays (ECM) Pianist Keith Jarrett, smart enough to recognize a good thing when he hears it, give us his twentieth recording (nineteenth as leader) with what may be the best configuration that he's played with over the course of his long career: the so-called Standards Trio of himself, double-bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Arguably the best piano-led trio since Red Garland formed his threesome with his pals from John Coltrane's quartet, they play classic small ensemble jazz in the mold of, well, Garland and others from that era while improvising the solos with their own style (which is what all great jazz musicians do), imbuing all they do with playing that's best described as careful and deliberate even when it's off-the-cuff. As with many of the albums they've made together, Yesterdays has the threesome putting their own spin on classic jazz tunes (hence the band's unofficial name). Besides classics from Charlie Parker ("Scrapple from the Apple"), Jerome Kern ("Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and the title track), and Horace Silver ("Strollin'"), the album also includes songs made famous by other great jazz men ("You've Changed," a favorite of Dexter Gordon), as well as new versions of songs associated with this group, both individually (Peacock famously played "A Sleepin' Bee" with Bill Evans more than 35 years ago) and collectively ("You Took Advantage of Me," which the threesome also included on 2007's My Foolish Heart). Of course, it helps that "You Took Advantage of Me" isn't just different from how these guys played it before, but that all of the songs have been made their own. "You've Changed," for example, is virtually unrecognizable when compared to the way Gordon did it, and not just because this version has no sax. Which isn't just a polite way of saying that they, don't sound like some weekend piano trio at the airport Holiday Inn. The threesome has never sounded better, though, truth be told, they've never sounded worse, either; there's a consistency to these guys that's reassuring. Like one of their albums? Then you'll like all nineteen, er twenty (the threesome first came together on Peacock's 1977 album Tales of Another, six years before their official debut as this trio on Jarrett's 1983 Standards, Vol. 1). Such bouncy tunes as "Shaw 'Nuff" and "Stella by Starlight" have them playfully bebopping around with the improvisational spirit of kids half their age, while the title track shows they have the maturity and chops to pull off a moody tune with supple subtlety. And then there's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which they play as a moody ballad but with Jarrett injecting some playful but still fittingly somber piano. There is something about Yesterdays that does make me wonder about something. The album was recorded mostly during a show in Japan back in 2001, with the exception being the ender "Stella by Starlight," which comes from a soundcheck a week prior. It's the fourth album from this tour, with 2002's Always Let Me Go coming from the same Japanese tour, while 2004's The Out-of-Towners and the previously mentioned Heart come from European dates the following July. Which wouldn't be that big of a deal, except that -- save for 2003's Up for It, which presents a French concert from 2002 -- they haven't recorded anything since the 2001 tour. Granted, this could just be a sign that they think they were really on that year, or that Jarrett has an obsession with a certain sci-fi movie, but it does beg the question: Why they haven't recorded anything, or released anything they've recorded, over the last six, seven years? Regardless of when this was recorded, or whether we'll ever hear anything more recent, Yesterdays still stands as a great recording from a group that's never made anything but. At times beautifully haunting, and at other times peppy and giddy in its off-the-cuff feeling, the album again shows how these guys can take the most classics of classics, the most standard of standards, and still breathe new life into them, making them sound fresh and original. Which is what happens when good musicians play together. - Paul Semel Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack DeJohnette - Yesterdays paul_semel.jpgPaul Semel has written about jazz for such publications as Wired, Bikini, Raygun, and