The Record Collection

Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert (1975)

ECM CD 810 067

The Köln Concert

Track list:

01 – Part I
02 – Part IIa
03 – Part IIb
04 – Part IIc

Personnel:

Keith Jarrett – piano.

Recorded: the Köln Opera House, Köln (Cologne), Germany; January 24, 1975

Producer: Manfred Eicher
Recording Engineer: Martin Wieland

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The concert was organized by 17-year-old Vera Brandes, Germany’s youngest concert promoter. At Jarrett’s request, Brandes had selected a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for the performance. However, there was some confusion by the opera house staff and instead they found another Bösendorfer piano backstage – a much smaller baby grand – and assuming it was the one requested placed it on the stage. Unfortunately, the error was discovered too late for the correct Bösendorfer to be delivered to the venue in time for the evening’s concert. The piano they had was intended for rehearsals only and was in poor condition and required several hours of tuning and adjusting to make it playable. The instrument was tinny and thin in the upper registers and weak in the bass register, and the pedals did not work properly. Consequently, Jarrett often used ostinatos and rolling left-hand rhythmic figures during his Köln performance to give the effect of stronger bass notes, and concentrated his playing in the middle portion of the keyboard. ECM Records producer Manfred Eicher later said: “Probably [Jarrett] played it the way he did because it was not a good piano. Because he could not fall in love with the sound of it, he found another way to get the most out of it.”

Jarrett arrived at the opera house late in the afternoon and tired after an exhausting long drive from Zurich, Switzerland, where he had performed a few days earlier. He had not slept well in several nights and was in pain from back problems and had to wear a brace. After trying out the substandard piano and learning a replacement instrument was not available, Jarrett nearly refused to play and Brandes had to convince him to perform as the concert was scheduled to begin in just a few hours. The concert took place at the unusually late hour of 11:30 PM following an earlier opera performance. This late-night time slot was the only one the administration would make available to Brandes for a jazz concert – the first one ever at the Köln Opera House.

The show was completely sold out and the venue was filled to capacity with over 1400 people at a ticket price of 4 Deutsche Marks (about $5.00). Despite the obstacles, Jarrett’s performance was enthusiastically received by the audience and the subsequent recording was acclaimed by critics. It remains his most popular recording and continues to sell well more than 35 years after its initial release.

The performance was recorded by ECM Records engineer Martin Wieland, Studio Bauer, using a pair of Neumann U-67 vacuum-tube powered condenser microphones and a Telefunken M-5 portable tape machine. The recording is in three parts: lasting about 26 minutes, 34 minutes and 7 minutes respectively. As it was originally programmed for vinyl LP, the second part was split into sections labelled “IIa” and “IIb.” The third part labelled “IIc” was actually the final piece, a separate encore.

A notable aspect of the concert was Jarrett’s ability to produce very extensive improvised material over a vamp of one or two chords for prolonged periods of time. For instance, in Part I, he spends almost 12 minutes vamping over the chords Am7 (A minor 7) to G major, sometimes in a slow, rubato feel, and other times in a bluesy, gospel rock feel. For about the last 6 minutes of Part I, he vamps over an A major theme. Roughly the first 8 minutes of Part II A is a vamp over a D major groove with a repeated bass vamp in the left hand, and in Part IIb, Jarrett improvises over an F# minor vamp for about the first 6 minutes.

Since the release of The Köln Concert, Jarrett had been asked by pianists, musicologists and others, to publish the music. For years he resisted such requests since, as he said, the music played was improvised “on a certain night and should go as quickly as it comes.” In 1990, Jarrett finally agreed on publishing an authorized transcription but with the recommendation that every pianist intending to play the piece should use the recording itself as the final word. A new interpretation of The Köln Concert has been published in 2006 by Polish pianist Tomasz Trzcinski on his Album Blue Mountains. A transcription for classical guitar has also been published by Manuel Barrueco.
~wikipedia [Jan 2013]
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