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CD Review: Keith Jarrett – Staircase

5 stars

Artist: Keith Jarrett
Album: Staircase
Genre: Jazz
Label: ECM
Released: 1976

Musicians: Keith Jarrett, solo piano

I have one thing to say about this solo piano album by Keith Jarrett… Hourglass Part II. It’s utterly sublime if you find the time to really sink into the music.

This album was recorded in Paris, France in May of 1976. According to Keith Jarrett’s biography the piano was an excellent sounding Bosendorfer concert grand. And although Bosendorfer concert grand pianos are said to have a slightly darker tone than Steinways, the studio recording has an exceptional warmth to it, originally leading me to believe that it was a Steinway grand that was used.

Nevertheless, this album is truly a work of art, divided into 4 distinct sections: Staircase, Hourglass, Sundial, and Sand. And within each section there are 2 to 3 movements.

Forget the Koln Concert, and all the other live albums; this is the best Keith Jarrett album I’ve ever heard. It’s not always melodic, but when it is, it’s just beautiful, and when it isn’t, it still moves me. The whole thing has a timeless quality that has to be heard to be understood. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is eventually considered one of his most important recordings.

Actually, I like this person’s quote from Amazon.com, except that I wouldn’t forget The Koln Concert, no way… but I agree that Staircase is one of his most important recordings, and is one of the rare improvised solo piano albums he’s recorded in the studio. Most of his solo piano recordings are “live”.

On person on Amazon.com writes:

Staircase is the finest album of “in the studio” piano improvisations that Jarrett ever recorded. Which is to say that these are some of the finest piano improvisations that you will ever hear. The audio fidelity captured by Tonstudio Bauer where this album was recorded is incredible. That said, it should be noted that this is challenging music. Some pieces are almost minimalist in their approach, and a number have no recognizable melody but really only “texture.” Even so, this is some of the most original and remarkable piano improvisation ever captured on vinyl. For people who know Jarrett primarily through more popular albums such as the “Köln Concerts,” some of this music may seem a bit inaccessible. But if you listen with an open mind, you may have a profound musical experience…

As I once again re-visit this album, I am astounded by the minimalist quality and the sound recording quality. This is definitely a one-of-a-kind album that, if one digs deep and opens one’s heart to the music, it will be a musically rich reward to the listener…



About the author:
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Carlos Rull is a musician living in the San Diego area. His interests include Yoga, Eastern Philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and Gardening. He plays drums, piano, and composes New Age & Ambient music, and his albums are available on iTunes and Amazon.com.

13 COMMENTS
  1. KC

    My God! How come I’ve never heard about this before? I MUST GET IT NOW!
    Actually, I think it will be the perfect gift for my husband on his birthday, the 17th of March. And only 3 days for me to, before he opens it and puts it on..:-)) *grin*
    Thank you, thank you and Thank you!

  2. KC

    My God! How come I’ve never heard about this before? I MUST GET IT NOW!
    Actually, I think it will be the perfect gift for my husband on his birthday, the 17th of March. And only 3 days for me to, before he opens it and puts it on..:-)) *grin*
    Thank you, thank you and Thank you!

  3. randomguru

    KC: that’s awesome!

    oh, i think you’ll really like this album, because it was (i believe) the next piano album following the Koln Concert and was likely overshadowed by it.

    nevertheless, the improvisations on Staircase are more similar in style to the Koln Concert than his later live piano recordings. and i really feel the piano and studio recording is superior.

    in Jarrett’s biography, he wasn’t very happy with the piano he played on the Koln Concert. it was inferior and the mid range notes were especially a problem. but because of his genius and creativity, he made it work and the Koln Concert is possibly his best work because of his overcoming this obstacle. also, he and producer Manfred Eicher had been rushing and driving for most of the night to get to the concert, so Jarrett was very tired.

  4. randomguru

    KC: that’s awesome!

    oh, i think you’ll really like this album, because it was (i believe) the next piano album following the Koln Concert and was likely overshadowed by it.

    nevertheless, the improvisations on Staircase are more similar in style to the Koln Concert than his later live piano recordings. and i really feel the piano and studio recording is superior.

    in Jarrett’s biography, he wasn’t very happy with the piano he played on the Koln Concert. it was inferior and the mid range notes were especially a problem. but because of his genius and creativity, he made it work and the Koln Concert is possibly his best work because of his overcoming this obstacle. also, he and producer Manfred Eicher had been rushing and driving for most of the night to get to the concert, so Jarrett was very tired.

  5. KC

    There is a biography? *lol* Looks like I will have to look these things up now. I was just happy with the music, little knowing there was much better stuff out there! And now i realize that i was like the frog in the well who was happy in his small world, not knowing that there was a world of better, more beautiful things waiting out in the ocean…*lol*

    Thank you for opening up my world. 😀
    And Wow!

  6. KC

    There is a biography? *lol* Looks like I will have to look these things up now. I was just happy with the music, little knowing there was much better stuff out there! And now i realize that i was like the frog in the well who was happy in his small world, not knowing that there was a world of better, more beautiful things waiting out in the ocean…*lol*

    Thank you for opening up my world. 😀
    And Wow!

  7. KC

    Can you believe they didnt have the Staircase at the Tower Records in Shibuya, where i normally shop for my CDs…? And they told me since it is out of production, you cannot place any orders for it either…*sigh* Looks like it’s time to go hit amazon.com…:-(

  8. KC

    Can you believe they didnt have the Staircase at the Tower Records in Shibuya, where i normally shop for my CDs…? And they told me since it is out of production, you cannot place any orders for it either…*sigh* Looks like it’s time to go hit amazon.com…:-(

  9. Wayne Dent

    I love your having made the connection between music and the ever present zen awareness available to each of us if we have the courage to look. I have gotten into a very personal habit of selecting one of Keith Jarrett’s solo cd’s at night just before bedtime. I lower the lights and allow myself to enter into a very quiet space while listening to Mr. Jarrett. His performances are so deeply personal and intimate and they are the perfect tonic for releasing the tensions of the day and slowing your thoughts and heartrate before going to bed. Indeed, since I started doing this practice, I have slept even deeper than I use to sleep (and I have always slept like a baby!)

    I just ordered Staircase on your recommendation. Thank you!

  10. Wayne Dent

    I love your having made the connection between music and the ever present zen awareness available to each of us if we have the courage to look. I have gotten into a very personal habit of selecting one of Keith Jarrett’s solo cd’s at night just before bedtime. I lower the lights and allow myself to enter into a very quiet space while listening to Mr. Jarrett. His performances are so deeply personal and intimate and they are the perfect tonic for releasing the tensions of the day and slowing your thoughts and heartrate before going to bed. Indeed, since I started doing this practice, I have slept even deeper than I use to sleep (and I have always slept like a baby!)

    I just ordered Staircase on your recommendation. Thank you!

  11. james honaker

    I would agree that this is perhaps his most important solo work. Structure suits him well. 1976 was an astonishing year for Jarrett. Besides Staircase, he recorded the singular and brilliant Hymns/Spheres(Gould’s only organ foray was reviled as well), Kyoto(from Sun Bear), and a number of interesting compositional pieces. On Staircase, the Bosendorfer hammers have been altered to produce a unique, bell-like sound that Jarrett exploits to great effect. (Vinyl reveals this much more than the CD.) This is remarkable musicianship that defies categories, in an age when subjective whim is more often than not confused with Artistic merit.

  12. james honaker

    I would agree that this is perhaps his most important solo work. Structure suits him well. 1976 was an astonishing year for Jarrett. Besides Staircase, he recorded the singular and brilliant Hymns/Spheres(Gould’s only organ foray was reviled as well), Kyoto(from Sun Bear), and a number of interesting compositional pieces. On Staircase, the Bosendorfer hammers have been altered to produce a unique, bell-like sound that Jarrett exploits to great effect. (Vinyl reveals this much more than the CD.) This is remarkable musicianship that defies categories, in an age when subjective whim is more often than not confused with Artistic merit.

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