"Not a single decision was taken lightly" – that's what I wrote on the overview page of this section and if I had to pick one of my choices to justify this pathetic wording, it would be this compilation.
Keith Jarret's Sun Bear Concerts mean something very special to me. It's not music I like, it's music I need to breathe. And I've been listening to this music for over 20 years now. Almost every day, with no plans to stop any time soon.
Well, first of all, for me this is Keith Jarret at his absolute best. The Köln Concert is fantastic, no question, but it does not have the same depth. And his later recordings are interesting and definitely worth listening to, but at no point was he able to make complex things sound so incredibly effortless.
The Sun Bear concerts are different. Each of the five concerts he played over the course of just nine days(!) manages to balance the challenging and the cheesy, while merging a gazillion different styles from Bach to Miles with a quick stop at Mahler and the like. - And in the end it all sounds like a single piece. Which it is, because he plays it straight from the top of his head. Freestyle!
I've had enough time over the last 20 years to ask myself what it is about this music and me. I still don't really know, but one relevant aspect is definitely the flow of the music. There are not many interruptions (mainly at the end of a concert, when the annoying crowd makes annoying noises by hammering their hands together) and this allows me to sink into the music and experience it in the form of landscapes. - Something that works even better as there's only the sound of a piano to take me on the ride.
Sun Bear Concerts are beautiful, cheesy, rough, complex, simple, pleasant and annoying (especially at the end of a concert, when the audience...). There are endless things to discover. Really endless (remember, 20 years and counting).
I recommend starting with the Encores. They are short, digestible and concise. And if you have never heard anything by Keith Jarret, you should definitely start with the Tokyo Encore. Even if nothing else here is for you, this one will not let you down. Any human being with ears and a heart has to like it (but be careful, you might gain weight while listening to it, because it is undoubtedly sweet as pink sugar).
If you liked the Encores, you're ready for your first journey. Take an evening off, find your best headphones and listen to the Osaka Concert. It's my favourite recording on this 10-disc box set. This one has it all. Darkness and light, beauty and roughness, fast, slow, ... - and all in perfect balance, delivered with the perfect tension! I'm not a music journalist otherwise I would find all kinds of meaningful references and of course nasty criticisms, but since I lack that vocabulary, I'm forced to simply enjoy this incredible work of art. 😁
After Osaka, the world is yours! - Feel free to enjoy Tokyo, which starts so gently but escalates very quickly. Or Kyoto, with its soft and elegant darkness. Or Nagoya, where you'll discover that between the eighth and tenth minute, the layers of the original magnetic tape must have been smeared on top of each other, because you can hear the next note coming a bit earlier. - Even on Spotify.
Sun Bear Concerts are not music to be listened to. It's music that needs to be discovered. And I'm grateful for every single note it contains.
You can get the CDs from the ECM shop (no affiliate link, I just happen to really like ECM a lot). The vinyl is out of stock (and be sure I won't give mine away).