Apart from a first, revelatory encounter with Keith Jarrett in the ’70s — and that probably doesn’t count, since it was comparable to a first date with a future spouse — Tuesday night’s performance by Jarrett and his trio at Benaroya Hall surpassed anything I’ve heard in 40 years by this extraordinary pianist.
When he’s really on, Jarrett has a way of drawing listeners into his compressed realm of concentration, where the notes seem to fall like crystals in a snow globe.
Even when he was probing intensely, or flying over the keys at top speed, Jarrett’s playing had a clarity and lightness, the egolessness he famously strives for but does not always achieve. Nothing felt forced — there was little gospelish vamping — and he got in and out of his ideas quickly, as if to say, “Well, there is it is. Hope you like it.”
Boy, did we ever. The jubilant crowd cheered the trio back for an unusual four encores, which suggested that the 30-year-old trio was playing very well, indeed.
As always, Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette offered a mix of standards, bebop and originals in a variety of tempos, with some melodies heavily disguised. Include in that group the opening ballad, “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” which began with a long, cross-handed rumble over knocking drums, melted into swing time and a bass solo, glanced by the melody, then vamped out.
But that was just a warm-up. Jarrett flooded “Blame It On My Youth,” with tender melancholy, swelling and ebbing as he ran a heartbreaking chromatic knife down its spine. He followed a lively romp through Bud Powell’s “Bouncin’ With Bud” with the first-set closer, “Fever.”
Second-half highlights included a fleet take on Dave Brubeck’s irresistible “In Your Own Sweet Way” and, on the encores, Peacock’s piquant bass line on what may have been the ballad “Answer Me,” a ticking, ’60s jazz-rock version of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” and an exquisite “When I Fall in Love.”
Jarrett’s concert was a beautiful beginning for the Earshot Jazz Festival. If the organization brings Jarrett back, one suggestion. Benaroya Hall is elegance personified, but it plays havoc with jazz drums. A different venue would afford DeJohnette more elbow room and the trio a more integrated sound.
Earshot Jazz Festival
Through Nov. 17 at various venues; free-$125, festival pass $375-$425 (206-547-6763 or www.earshot.org).