The remarkable pianist Keith Jarrett has made sameness synonymous with stimulating. In a program of standards bound by relatively similar tempos and chord changes, Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette melodically peek around corners, through open windows and under the seat cushions. At each turn, they find attractive, familiar vistas, ones that fall pleasantly on the ears and are recognizable from their 17 years of recording together.
Thursday’s sold-out concert, a rare appearance for this band given Jarrett’s chronic fatigue syndrome, possessed the same airiness and lighthearted character found on their elegant ECM recordings, the most recent being “Tokyo ’96.” Jarrett’s illness-related inactivity has not dampened or darkened his spirit at the keyboard: He still lifts his body from the piano bench when he solos full bore; he straightens his back and bops his head when he plays a funk line; and he adds chords of warm support to bass and drum solos. His ideas are always lightly tethered to a main theme, with every solo suggesting rays of light and soul-heating warmth.
Each of the musicians plays with an air of grace. As a unit, they are among a handful who developed with the free-form movement of the late ’60s and ’70s and have blossomed alongside the neo-traditionalists of the last dozen years. This setting found them closer to the pocket than they would be leading other bands, but they approached standard jazz repertoire with both a healthy abandon and a commitment to tunefulness.
Those who saw the trio’s last L.A. show — in October ’95 at the Wiltern — would agree that this night didn’t have the shroud of “event” that blanketed that evening. The Royce show felt more comfortable and broken in — inspiring just the same, as Jarrett’s shows almost always are, but without so much weight assigned the effort.
They are the prototype of what a working jazz band should be in the new millennium. There is no justifiable criticism for this act beyond asking the individual members to do some of what they have done in other settings. In Jarrett’s case, it’s a call for a bit more free improvisation; for DeJohnette, it’s a bit more rambunctiousness; and for Peacock, it’s a quest for deeper and longer notes to establish more of a chord’s root than the speedy runs he now delivers. And wouldn’t it inflate the proceedings a bit if a fourth member — a trumpet or a saxophone — were introduced as a guest, just as Jarrett did in the ’70s?
Yet this trio makes music at such an extraordinarily high level, it must be taken on its own merits. Known to take himself a bit too seriously, Jarrett is at his frothiest and most grounded in this context. Talent and imagination, set in a steady state of bliss, still work well for him.