When Keith Jarrett and his peerless cohorts of more than two decades, Gary Peacock and Jack De Johnette, last performed in Los Angeles in November 2003, they had to deal with untried, hostile, murky, overamplified acoustics within the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, arousing Jarrett’s verbal ire then and since. Thankfully, on Saturday night, they returned to Royce Hall, their usual local hangout — and what a difference the change of scene made. This was the Jarrett “Standards” Trio in state-of-the-art form, perhaps inspired by the best sound they have ever received in this city.
At last, one could hear Jarrett’s grand piano, Peacock’s acoustic bass and De Johnette’s drum kit clearly and distinctly in mostly equal balance, sounding like recognizable acoustic instruments within their own sonic spaces. At last, the engineers could capture and project Jarrett’s unmistakable touch and complete control of dynamics; the bass produced real defined pitches instead of amorphous thuds; and there seemed to be hardly any audible amplification on the drums at all. Somebody should take these settings down and punch them into the mixing board permanently.
On this evening, the trio confined their telepathic interplay to a steady diet of standards and bop — like a fast, tightly focused Bud Powell-inspired bebop groove for “The Way You Look Tonight”; the swinging, crisply drummed, medium-up-tempo treatment of “You Go to My Head”; or “Budo” (from “The Birth of the Cool”) at a turbocharged clip. The tunes were often simply stated by Jarrett’s right hand with singing emotion, and his solos remain remarkably cogent and easy to follow.
At one point, it appeared the three were about to develop one of their magnificently funky free jams on a revolving chord pattern, yet it turned out to be only the intro to a Latinized “I’m a Fool to Want You.” Finally, in the last encore, the dam broke and the trio took off at length on a great gospel/funk-drenched boogaloo vamp, everyone reaching deep into the groove.
Indeed, the only disappointment was that the Jarrett-Peacock-De Johnette concert was originally supposed to be the center post of a unique two-week-long ECM Festival at UCLA, one that would have spanned this iconoclastic label’s reach within the classical, jazz and world music fields. Alas, the festival concept fell apart, leaving Jarrett and Savina Yannatou as the only remaining acts.