Monday, March 5, 2018

Old Folks Play “Old Folks” Affectionately

Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, and Gary Peacock (photograph by Patrick Hinely, courtesy of ECM Records)

This past Friday ECM released the latest album of performances by what has come to be called “the Standards trio.” This is a group led from the piano by Keith Jarrett, playing with Gary Peacock on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Among the standards included on this “document” of a session presented in Newark, New Jersey in November of 1998 is a particularly affectionate account of Willard Robison’s “Old Folks,” which I first remember having heard sung by a vocal combo (probably with a big band), whom I have not yet managed to identify. For those who might think of my headline as “agist,” I should note that I passed the milestone of my 70th birthday in 2016; and I am younger than all three members of this trio! (For the record, “Old Folks” was written in 1938, making it younger than Peacock and older than both Jarrett and DeJohnette.)

I have to say that age has provided a certain satisfaction in what now counts for “standards.” When I am told that a group is going to play standards, I tend not to expect to hear compositions by Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond, and John Coltrane. However, collectively they account for five of the tracks on a two-CD album encompassing twelve tracks. I call that a statistically significant presence of music described as “far out” during my student days!

Mind you, the session at which these tracks were recorded took place almost twenty years ago. Perhaps that may be the key to why this new album is entitled After The Fall. At the time of that Newark date, the members of the trio could probably say that they were in, as W. S. Gilbert put it, “the autumn of our life.” Twenty years on autumn has passed into winter (for them as well as for myself). One way to approach the album title would be by putting Gilbert’s phrase (taken from The Yeomen of the Guard) into its full context:
In the autumn of our life,
Here at rest in ample clover,
We rejoice in telling over
Our impetuous May and June.
When viewed retrospectively from 1998, jazzmen such as Parker, Powell, and Coltrane could easily stand for those “impetuous” younger days as they were enjoyed by the likes of Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette. For the record, my own first encounter with DeJohnette took place somewhere in the mid-Sixties at the Village Vanguard. That date was shared by Mose Allison and Thelonious Monk (impetuous, indeed!); and I cannot retrieve from memory with whom DeJohnette was playing that night.

With all that as context for the basis of this recording, Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette were all still pretty damned impetuous in 1998. Perhaps that is why they could effect the transition of their impetuous predecessors into “standards status.” Now that the calendar has advanced another twenty years, it is hard to think of any of them resting “in ample clover.” Instead, we should wonder what they would now classify as “standards” should they decide to gather for another gig some time during the course of this year.

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