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ECM’s latest release of Keith Jarrett should not be taken as sadly prophetic

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In March of 2007, pianist Keith Jarrett invited bassist Charlie Haden to come to his home studio for four days of recording. Two ECM recordings would result from these sessions. The first, Jasmine, was released in May of 2010. The second was not released until this past June and was given the title Last Dance. One can only speculate whether ECM Executive Producer Manfred Eicher knew, at that time, how seriously Haden’s post-polio syndrome had advanced at that time; but we now know that Haden died the following July 11, less than a month after the album was released with its now sadly prophetic title.

This cannot help but establish a “memorial” context for any listener knowledgeable about Haden. This is why I felt it important to begin by noting the 2007 date of the recordings themselves. There are absolutely no memorial connotations associated with any of the nine tracks on this album. Rather, each selection is a highly inventive mediation on a tune that had become an “established classic” by the time of Haden’s visit to Jarrett. These are, for the most part, quiet meditations, almost as if each of the two musicians provides a setting for the other’s introspection. Things only liven up noticeably for the performance of Bud Powell’s “Dance Of The Infidels.”

However, in spite of the album’s title, there is no sense of “finality” in any of the performances. Personally, I would call the overall tone of these tracks one of “creative retrospection.” Thus, while Haden and Jarrett were each exploring their own approaches to expression, they seemed to be saying collectively to their listeners, “These are tunes by past masters such as Powell, Thelonious Monk [“’Round Midnight”], and Cole Porter [“Every Time We Say Goodbye”]; but they are just as meaningful to us in the here-and-now of the present.”

For that matter there is no sense of “finality” in Haden’s personal chronology. In February of 2010 he would have a recording session with pianist Hank Jones. This would turn out to be only a few months before Jones’ death in May of that year at the age of 91. As we listen to Last Dance, we should think of Haden as a prodigiously creative performer who kept going as long as his body would allow him to do so, rather than allowing his tracks with Jarrett to be treated as a foreshadowing of “last things.”

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