This ‘sleeper’ is a complete, previously unreleased concert recording by Keith Jarrett’s ‘European Quartet’ of the late 70s, captured at Nakano Sun Plaza, Tokyo, on 16 April 1979.
This band played together only infrequently, and issued just two studio recordings prior to the Japanese tour: Belonging (1974), and My Song (1978). There has already been one live album, Personal Mountains, culled from the same tour, and another that draws on the same material, Nude Ants, was recorded later the same year at New York’s Village Vanguard.
Versions of all but one of the songs on Sleeper can be found on those earlier releases. “Oasis” and “Innocence” actually feature on all three. Only “So Tender” is exclusive to Sleeper, as is “Sunshine Song” to Nude Ants and the playful “Late Night Willie” to Personal Mountains.
“Personal Mountains” was justification in itself for the tardy release of the album that bore its title. The version with which the quartet opens Sleeper is perhaps even more magnificent. Once Garbarek has essayed the curt, ecstatic cry of the head, the tune fairly tumbles along on polyrhythms with a looseness imbued with an elegance often suggestive of ballroom dance rhythms. Jarrett solos magnificently on piano and switches to percussion when Garbarek is given his head. Still, at this time, carrying traces of Albert Ayler in his declamatory tenor, the saxophonist is impassioned but restrained, and supremely lyrical. The rhythm section then get their break, Danielsson’s double-bass line wending sinuously through fast-flowing ripples of percussion. After a restatement of the head there’s a lull, with Garbarek at first bruised and tender, then emotive. But Jarrett resists, accompanying with a series of simple recombinant figures; his final solo is a definition of clarity.
After 21 minutes, “Personal Mountains” segues directly into the pensive hush of “Innocence”, unaccompanied sax and piano engaging in a courtly minuet until Danielsson taps in. The theme, played twice by Garbarek, is instantly memorable, and pleasantly saccharin. Two statements bookend a brief, authoritative but relaxed piano trio. Overall, it’s a superb 30-plus minute opening sequence.
On “So Tender”, the quartet curdles the sweetness of “Innocence” into something altogether more vigorous, exhibiting for the most part a robust jouissance before Garbarek and Jarrett end the first set with an achingly fragile melodic exchange.
The second set begins in another country. The first quarter-hour of “Oasis” expands on ideas Garbarek had explored with his own band, as recorded on his debut albums as a leader, Esoteric Circle (Flying Dutchman, 1969) and Afric Pepperbird (ECM, 1970). It’s an increasingly vigorous blend of extended arco double bass and small percussion instruments, with Garbarek on flute. There’s no piano for the first seven minutes, and two sinuous tenor sax solos frame Jarrett’s feature and dominate the ruminative exposition. Garbarek’s European folk influences are explicit here, though Jarrett’s grounding in the American avant-garde (his ‘American quartet’ was still active at this time) makes this group’s music an earthier proposition than Garbarek’s later fare.
The quartet segue into “Chant of the Soil” with an agitated passage for saxophone trio, but Jarrett’s entry vamp prompts a snappily loose precision pulse from Danielsson and Christensen, which the leader then works into a gospel-tinged lope. The quartet are working through the changes here, giving a masterclass in performative tension and release, and Danielsson’s extraordinarily effective double-bass feature is exemplary.
Both the bassist’s lovely intro and a superb solo from Jarrett on the version of “Prism” that graced Personal Mountains would be hard to beat, but the one here runs it close. Both Garbarek and Jarrett execute solos of transparent fluency, while bass and drums are languid yet steely in their precision. The set is winding down rather too calmly for my tastes, however, the meat course already consumed and cleared from the table.
Garbarek has said (in the notes for his Selected Recordings) that he was “in awe” of Jarrett’s “ability to make the piano sing…, complexity and simplicity, abstraction and earthiness hand in hand”, while Jarrett for his part stated that: “Everyone (here) is just trying to make the thing transparent and clear and feeling good,” and that’s a very succinct description of the music heard both on “Prism” and the one brief encore, a seven-minute sashay through the sprightly, aptly-titled “New Dance”.
The belated issue of Personal Mountains in 1989 made the Nude Ants album rather superfluous, as it was uniformly superior in terms of both sound and performance. Sleeper doesn’t constitute quite the same qualitative advance, but being a more comprehensive document than the ’89 release, and newly and cleanly mixed, it is now the best available live document of this short-lived and highly influential quartet.
Keith Jarrett – Rio.
Jan Garbarek – Dansere (‘white box’ three album reissue).
Terje Rypdal – Odyssey in Studio & in Concert (‘white box’ reissue).