The sheer prolificness of the Jarrett oeuvre is an intimidating initial obstacle to first time listeners. Rather than the lounge-maestro stereotype that fairweather stoners take from listening to The Köln Concert, his discography is in fact chock full of intense free jazz experimentation downright hostile to identifiable melody - not to mention the sublime fusion of Expectations (1972); a far cry from Köln's inspirational lyricism. Shades (1975), Backhand (1974), Byablue (1977) and The Mourning of A Star (1971) all seem to actively resist Jarrett's greatest strengths, as both a composer and virtuoso pianist, using dominating chord vamps as the central source of movement, rather than the carefully phrased timbre of Jarrett's right hand. This, his most accomplished and satisfying single work, My Song, features his unique talent for mature, wistful melodic phrasing with prominence, but the more experimental and frenzied side of the man's work tastefully incorporated; if you want the laid-back you must also take the crazy.
I can't be sure whether the man himself thought of this project as a synthesis of two distinct styles, but the ordering of the tracklist is suspiciously binary in its unfolding. Opening the album is the slow-rolling 'Questar', whose interrogative opening sax melody steadily anchors the increasingly impatient and fractured piano accompaniment. As the piano interludes begin to dominate the track (tailed by the faint sound of Jarrett's hilarious scatting) the track's stream-of-consciousness style grows frantic yet determined. The sax eventually tames this unruly solo, returning to a variation on the opening melody. The second track, 'My Song' is a fine example of Jarrett at his most clear and melodious. There is a vocal quality to his playing which renders his playing so memorable, and this song is perhaps one of his most pre-meditated (and therefore accessible); evidenced in the Pop verse-chorus structure. The following track, 'Tabarka', has a similarly quizative personality to 'Questar', but the unresolved, frustrated chain of notes and off-beat tribal bongos build an atmosphere of unease and shifting balance.
With increasing predictability, now, the next track, 'Country', is a short and mellifluous tune. An unambiguous expression of summertime joy. The rich timbre of the sax is comforting and sincere, duetting in close harmony with the keys. For this song, the bass and drums stay strictly in check, but in the most challenging track, 'Mandala', they are freed to run stampede. When Garbarek finally re-enters he has a the fast-burning energy of a rambling hobo, yet the quartet seems as though each is locked into their own world; each ignoring the others' outbursts and competing to be paid due attention.
The album ends with my personal single favourite from the entirety of Jarrett's sprawling, five-decade career. 'The Journey Home', following the contented mood of 'Country', is an gorgeous, lyrical monologue, with each member of the quartet perfectly tuned to each of the others' strengths. The breezy, relaxed meter underscores the carefully structured and perfectly attuned layers of virtuosity, while the hopeful melody reaches out and sinks in comforting eloquence. The song's slow-descending finale is a meditative reflection in triumphant optimism. The final notes cling and lull with modest joy. @192