To those with unadventurous ears, Keith Jarrett’s No End (CD, digital) might seem like apt title for this new (though not newly-recorded) album. Driven by Santana-esque guitars and rhythms, and employing rather loose structures, the tracks on this instrumental collection harkens back to the work Jarrett did with Miles Davis on such epic jazz-rock fusion albums as 1971’s A Tribute To Jack Johnson, 1970’s Miles Davis At Fillmore: Live At The Fillmore East, and 1971’s Live-Evil. But for those of us who appreciate loosely-structured, atmospheric instrumental soundscapes, calling this No End couldn’t be a less appropriate.
Recorded at his home studio in 1986, Keith Jarrett’s No End (ECM) finds the iconic jazz keyboardist playing with pianos, electric guitars, drums, a Fender bass, a recorder, tablas, and other percussion instruments. But this double album doesn’t sound like an afternoon of noodling by a man bored with his usual instrument as much as it does an afternoon of experimenting with sound, mood, and form.
On many of the tracks, Jarrett sounds like he just listened to a bunch of early Santana albums, and decided to underlay some airy electric guitar with Latin-flavored rhythms. Which is not to say he goes all guitar god on these tracks. Unlike the music on those aforementioned Miles Davis albums, which fused jazz and rock in equal proportions — and, not surprisingly, could also be described as Santana-esque — the music on No End takes a mellower and more textural approach. As a result, many of these instrumentals are actually closer in tone and form to what Miles on 1969’s A Silent Way, which was decidedly more downbeat, less aggressive, and jazzier than what the two did on Jack Johnson, Fillmore, or Live-Evil.
Then there are the tracks that are more rhythmically-driven, ones where the percussion is the driving force, and the guitars are like coloring. This is where things get really interesting, as these tracks recall the experimental soundscapes of such sonic architects as Muslimgauze (albeit without the Middle Eastern influences and instrumentation), Alien Farm, and Rapoon.
That said, none of the twenty tracks on Keith Jarrett’s No End are as abrasive or noisy as anything you might find on an album by Muslimgauze, Alien Farm, or Rapoon, even when Jarrett takes as loose an approach to structure as they do. Which isn’t to say fans of those three avant-garde musicians won’t enjoy — or at the very least, appreciate — what Jarrett has done here; quite the opposite. Just that No End isn’t as agro or as dissonant as what they do, even when it is as loose.
Though it is this lack of structure that might turn off some of his jazz fans, who might think this sounds like nonsensical noodling. Which, admittedly, it does at times. On a couple tracks, it sounds like Jarrett isn’t even trying to adhere to a structure. But while those are the album’s weak spots when listened to on their own, in context, they actually end up sounding more like interludes in a larger soundscape.
At times, Keith Jarrett’s No End also kind of recalls ghosts i-iv, a 2008 collection of similarly atmospheric instrumentals by nine inch nails. And not just because both eschew song titles for roman numerals. The two share an experimental and textural tone that waivers between the noisy and the atmospheric, the aggressive and the textural, and the results are similarly like an avant-garde symphony (though whether this will lead to Jarrett scoring a David Fincher movie remains to be seen).
(photo © Toshinari Koinuma/ECM Records)
For all its adventurous spirit, though, Keith Jarrett’s No End does, ironically, get a little samey when taken as a whole. Listening to both discs back-to-back gets to be a bit much around the middle of the second disc. Which is not to say that the second disc is just more of the same. Quite the opposite; the second disc has some of the more interesting moments. But things do start to blur together after about an hour or so, even if you listen to disc two and then disc one. Though this does not happen if you listen to the two discs independently.
In the end, Keith Jarrett’s No End is not for everyone. Not even if you’re a fan of Jarrett when he flirts with free jazz, as he does sometimes with his Peacock/DeJohnette trio. And even fans of his work with Miles Davis might find this to be a bit much. But for those with an open mind, adventurous ears, and a willingness to let a song’s structure be fluid, even obtuse, No End is a beautiful sonic soundscape of texture and atmosphere that pushes the convention in a hauntingly beautiful way.