For me, Keith Jarrett is the Arnold Schoenberg of the jazz. As Schoenberg's phenomenal creativity deconstructed the idioms of classical music, so too has Jarrett transformed the thoughts of jazz and the how the piano is heard and felt. Keith Jarrett's dense, emotional and yet sparse technique has mystified audiences for over five decades.
His talent first shone during stints with groups led Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis in the late 60s and early 70s. Jarrett would go on to led successful solo, trio and quartet recordings, all of which feature unparalleled dynamism. Such a daunting task it is to name my favourite Jarrett album I won't begin to open an argument here today. I have chosen to focus on one album that I have been listening to a lot over the past few days. For no other reason than the fact of matter that I found The Vienna Concert (ECM Records) out of place on my CD shelf that I put it on recently to just see if I remember the album. It has been on permanent rotation for since the beginning of the months (yeah I know its only 10 days but whatever).
The Vienna Concert is a highly inventive and technical masterclass of a solo performance. It features one piece split into two parts. "Vienna Part I" is the more rigid and structural, highlighting a more introspective nature and thought-provoking aspect that leaves the listener focused squarely on Jarrett's movement on the keys and where he will go next. It also showcases Jarrett's extensive classical training in its execution. "Vienna Part II" is an almost free flowing jazz infused affair that truly shows how Jarrett is far and away the best pianist of his last half century.
One aspect of all Jarrett live performances is his weird ability to become so emotional involved in the performance that he begins to sing or hum along to the piece which to many newcomers could be off-putting but it is essential to understanding Keith Jarrett the musician. The Vienna Concert was recorded between a number excellent quartet albums that featured Jarrett regulars, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette and Paul Motain. Although Jarrett had also recorded solo at the time, nothing like Vienna compared to it since his critically acclaimed Koln Concert in 1975 (also highly recommended).
I think if you haven't heard Keith Jarrett before this is not a bad place to start. While there are at least three good compilations available from spanning three different time periods, none of them are truly worth it for the uninitiated. So you are much better off picking up an individual Keith Jarret album. Many of his quartet albums featuring any of the above artists won't disappoint. If you want an absolutely perfect solo performance that you will come back to time and time again, look no further than The Vienna Concert.