Keith Jarrett performed 10 improvised pieces and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” Monday in his first solo piano recital in L.A. in 23 years. Conceptually, his music is coming from a vastly different mindset than it did when he was wowing fans with variations on his “Koln Concert” recording in the 1970s and early ’80s: The music performed, unamplified, at Walt Disney Concert Hall was concise and often spacious, influenced by the darkness of his personal life and soothing nature of the standards his trio has excelled at for more than two decades.
This solo piano recital was not the cerebral exercise found on Jarrett’s most recent disc, “Radiance,” a 2002 solo show recorded in Japan. For this concert, dedicated to John Cassavetes for his indie spirit, he alternated between aggressive, rolling numbers driven by his left hand and gently chord-based ballads.
He tossed in a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll spirit, too, playing boogie-woogie, a blues, gospel and a bit of funk the way one would expect of Gene Harris. Jarrett’s seriousness has hung with him like an albatross, but he’s loosened up — he visited the hall in its first season, after all, and criticized its acoustics. Jarrett has found a way to pull ideas out of thin air that exhibit his technical mastery of the piano and reach the audience with some degree of warmth; it’s no longer a search for enlightenment via the 88s.
Pieces ran about five minutes save for the second half opener, a 20-minute multifaceted improvisation that began with cascading scales in the bass notes, turned Spanish — even Sephardic — in its melodic center and eased into a crawl of a close that went deep into Randy Newman’s arsenal of chords. Wherever Jarrett goes in the improv, however, he displays an impeccable sense of timekeeping.
Unlike some of his previous efforts — those 45-minute exercises come to mind — his 95 minutes of musicmaking was strikingly humanistic; in nearly every piece, Jarrett would find a spot to make emotional connections with the listeners, often through ear-pleasing major chords and cinematic flourishes with his right hand. Concert was recorded for possible release by ECM.
He still hums and chants, yelps and sings while moving up and down from the bench. But he no longer has a fear of swing as he concocts an intersection of Bach, Rachmaninoff, Bill Evans and his own work with bands; this is a triumph beyond his overcoming Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the dark hole he lived in for years.
It did not feel as though a masterpiece was created Monday, but it felt unique within the recorded solo work and previous L.A. perfs through which we know the 60-year-old pianist. This felt much more like the truth.