Keith JarrettNude Ants
June / July 1980
Note: For this and other "doing-it-for-money" reviews, db used the pseudonym 'Spottswood Erving,' referencing basketball legend Julius "Dr. J" Erving as well as American civil rights attorney and federal judge, Spottswood William Robinson III, appointed by President Johnson in 1966 to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the first African American so appointed.
by Spottswood Erving
The Place: a pie-shaped slice of basement in the Big Apple, where one can hear the 7th Avenue subway rumble by during breaks. The New Yorker calls its air quality “unacceptable”; the music usually smokes excessively even when the patrons don’t. The Village Vanguard is, as the phrase currently goes, In The Tradition. At last check of the globe, it remains far removed from Koln, Oslo, and Japan. Incubator for much captured art, from Chasin’ The Train to Fort Yawuh, it was sold out all week for this gig.
The Means of Production: A two-track tape recorder, which erases the transparent clarity ECM is famous—or infamous—for, depending on your political aesthetics. This recording, issued instead of a 16-track tape of a Japan concert, is hardly pristine: the mix is soupy, colorful, even a bit rowdy.
The Players: Jarrett’s “European” quartet of Jan Garbarek on sax, Palle Danielsson on bass, and Jon Christensen on drums; so labeled in contradistinction to the deceased “American” quartet with Haden, Motian and Redman. While the latter was a darker, more muscular ensemble, the former has been more explicitly elegant—witness its two meticulously cut and polished gems, Belonging and My Song. But here the group’s music—no doubt bolstered by place and means of production—assumes a physicality, a penetrating sensuality, that is all the more vibrant for its unexpectedness.
The Music: Profoundly generous is breadth, depth and length; we have here an hour and forty minutes of exuberance and virtuosity. Jarrett writes the tunes and sets the tone for the quartet, which he dominates—but never destroys. The tone is, for the most part, one of joyous struggle, a paradox to only those ignorant of jazz’s traditional role as a ritual of affirmation, or confirmation, as Bird blew it.
Not that all things here are bright and beautiful—Jarrett’s encyclopedic emotionalism subverts any tendency towards one-note performances—but a sense of unfettered passion, melodic strength, and plain good fun give the record its strongest identity. Danielsson, though regrettably all but sololess and at times lost in the mix, provides an attractively mobile anchor, and Christensen’s nuanced drumming (sometimes choppy, sometimes smooth, on “Chant of the Soil” so subtly fused that it might be called swingfunk) pushes the group through the up-tempo sections as though every next passage had gravitational pull. And what got into the suddenly shrike-like Garbarek? New York must have de-iced the wings of his horn because he soars here, attacking the festive “New Dance” (hence Nude Ants) with Rollinsesque dash and heat.
And Jarrett’s playing will surely dismay those who love to gnaw on the flesh (and fat) of his excesses. With scant exception, it’s unpretentious and loving and keyed to the context of this group, rather than to any demands of epiphanic drama. His humming / grunting / yelping should only be so good.