Although I write about mostly modern electronic and indie and avant rock on this site, my musical interests have always included just about every musical genre. While I don't have the depth of knowledge that some do in either classical or jazz (or anything else for that matter), I've slowly tried to delve into and expand my listening into both genres (which are admittingly pretty intimidating to someone without much knowledge of either) and pull out the things that strike me on a certain level. In some cases (I won't name names), the names that everyone seems to mention all the time simply didn't do it for me, and at other times I wished I hadn't missed out on a particular release for so long.
Such is the case with Vienna Concert by Keith Jarrett. After hearing a friend rave about Jarrett for long periods of time, I slowly started listening to different pieces of his work as they were recommended. While there are other works by Jarrett that I also enjoy (The Köln Concert, parts of his epic Live At The Blue Note recordings), The Vienna Concert is the one piece of his work that I feel is utterly indispensible. Recorded in 1991 at the Vienna State Opera, it's just Jarrett at the piano but it is quite simply one of the most soulful and beautiful pieces of music that I've ever heard recorded on the instrument.
Like much of Jarrett's work, Vienna Concert is improvised, and it is broken into two long pieces. The first part runs just over forty minutes and the second just over twenty-five. The first piece alone is completely worth having by itself as Jarrett builds slowly from a devastatingly beautiful contemplative melody into a soulful swagger that has Jarrett letting out some of his trademark "oohs" and "aahs" as he hits just the right spots. As the piece repeats variatons on the theme, it has moments where it gradually builds in intensity and then backs off again, tugging you closer and then just slightly easing back to draw you in even more.
About halfway through, Jarrett takes the piece higher and higher, changing the feel and the chord progression before again backing off and taking things down very quiet before unleashing an almost riotous section about two-thirds of the way into the recording that keeps piling on the tension until you wonder if the whole piece is going to fall apart in shambles. Again showing the work of a musician who is completely on, he pulls back just slightly but winds down the piece with what may be the most uplifting and beautiful moments on the entire recording.
Part II starts with much more intensity than Part I and as a result doesn't feel quite as varied overall but Jarrett's piano prowess is still on fine display as he moves through several spirited passages that are absolutely astounding. As a musician who has a hard time doing much of anything musical, it's rather astounding for me to hear someone so obviously in tune with their instrument that they can sit down and play nearly seventy minutes of music (without planning any of it beforehand) and having it come out so amazing. Speaking about the The Vienna Concert, Jarrett stated, "I have courted the fire for a very long time, and many sparks have flown in the past, but the music on this recording speaks, finally, the language of the flame itself."
I have to agree with him.