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on the record:
Keith Jarrett's Shades

September 18, 2023 | by Rusty Aceves

The Japanese edition of Keith Jarrett's Shades

Hailing from the Bay Area’s first family of jazz, multi-instrumentalist Smith Dobson V returns to the JHL on 9/21 to perform the adventurous music from pianist Keith Jarrett’s 1976 Impulse! date Shades. Here’s a closer look at this early masterpiece.

Jarrett’s fifth album for the Impulse! label, Shades features the pianist’s lauded “American Quartet” of the period, including saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian, with the addition of Brazilian percussion great Guilherme Franco. Easily the most explosive and expansive recording of Jarrett’s career to that point, Shades showcases a particularly strong set of originals that veers freely between dancing grooves and avant-garde experimentation.

Recorded at Manhattan’s Generation Sound Studios in December of 1975 (in the same building that now houses the Iridium jazz club), Shades kicks off with the quasi-title track “Shades of Jazz,” a freewheeling and decidedly disjointed romp that wears its Ornette Coleman influence as a badge of honor, with extended space for noted Coleman collaborator Redman and the leader to explore untethered. Described by pianist Ethan Iverson on his “Do the Math” blog as “a goddamn classic,” the composition has endured, with a memorable version recorded by saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Dennis Irwin, and drummer Adam Nussbaum for the 2000 Jarrett tribute As Long as You're Living Yours: The Music of Keith Jarrett.

The gospel-meets-bossa flavored “Southern Smiles” begins without a break to sustain the energy from the opener, giving room for Franco’s shakers and bongos to reinforce Motian’s bouncing pulse behind Redman and Jarrett. The tune finally settles back for an emotive solo spot by Haden, whose sinuous lines recall his work with Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet of the late 1950s. The final word comes from the composer, whose whirlwind improvisations frame the return of the melody.

“Rose Petals” is the lone ballad on the session, with a masterful tutti statement of the melody by Jarrett and Redman, whose plaintive solo over a barrage of atmospheric percussion by Franco is the aching soul of the piece. Jarrett’s own solo exploration weaves in and around Haden’s foundation with a profound lyricism that leads seamlessly into the bassist's searching denouement before the coda. This tune found a fan in saxophonist and 2023-24 Season artist Branford Marsalis, who recorded a version in 1990 for his breakthrough quartet album Crazy People Music.

Shades closes with “Diatribe,” a manic burner that again plays up the Coleman influence and subtly suggests Jarrett’s melodically slippery “The Wind-Up” from 1974’s Belonging before splintering into a free jazz blowout with arco bass from Haden and percussive anarchy from Motian and Franco. Redman enters and takes it back to the blues at its most esoteric, shouting through his tenor as the gutbucket meets the 1970s NYC loft scene, setting up the restatement of the slyly discombobulated head that stops on a dime to end the tune, and the album.

Smith Dobson V plays Keith Jarrett's Shades on 9/21 as part of SFJAZZ's Hotplate series. Tickets are available here.

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