Gig Performance Space, May 11
There’s a certain melancholy in the works of songwriters who have outgrown youthful optimism but not lost touch with it. Scott Jarrett, pulling from some four decades of works at Gig Performance Space, showed he hasn’t forgotten romanticism or hopes for humankind in general, even as he’s been tempered by experience. Love, once the answer, is now the question. The world, then a place of promise, is somewhere that “if you’re not lethal, you’re not cool.” Though Jarrett tries, he “can’t find the milk of human kindness anymore.” He doesn’t look to place blame for his uneasiness, at least not entirely; though Higher Powers may be the source of some resentment. “What did I do to deserve this bad treatment?” he sang in his opening number, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The song was dedicated “maybe to God if there is one.” Otherwise, any lament he aired was mostly directed at his own shortcomings. Given today’s blame-laden lyrics of breakups and betrayals, this was somewhat refreshing.
Jarrett, an instructor of recording arts and music business at Santa Fe University of Art and Design and an active recording producer and engineer, had smooth-jazz success in 1980 with Without Rhyme or Reason, especially with the tune “The Image of You,” which was in rapid rotation on adult contemporary-radio stations everywhere. Without Rhyme or Reason included a number of notable jazz and fusion artists, including Dave Grusin, Toots Thielemans, Eddie Gomez, Marcus Miller, and Jarrett’s brother Keith in a not-entirely-easy-listening collection that cemented his reputation as a jazz crossover artist. That label never really applied. Jarrett is more from the singer-songwriter tradition. Accompanying himself on guitars and piano in what he called “The Revived Scott Jarrett Songbook, Part One,” the composer touched on influences as well as older material that he’d left unfinished and more recent works. In all, the two-set show was a considered look into the man’s heart and mind over time.
The few non-originals Jarrett performed reflected his melancholy. Among them, Randy Newman’s languid “Marie” found Jarrett emphasizing the shortcomings of the subject’s admirer. Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie,” from her 1967 album Song to a Seagull, not only carried a wistful story but also suggested the music Jarrett now writes, turning on attractive chord progressions and intriguing melody lines. He doesn’t so much frame his words with music but floats them on buoyant lines that bob above a depth of chords and embellishments. The tunes don’t sound complex until one starts to listen to what’s under them. This was most apparent when he sat at the piano. In the few tunes on which he played a smaller, four-string instrument that suggested a mandolin, the melodies came in more direct fashion. One, “Here We Are,” was played as an instrumental in lines that seemingly suggested lyrics as they came out. When he sang, the slight imprecisions in his voice made for an appealing innocence that suggested vulnerability.
A song of Jarrett’s that dates back to the 1970s, “Bang, Bang, Bang,” seemed assertive, even aggressive among the more recent numbers. A tune written in 1985, “Holding on to You,” with its affirmative chorus, suggested the power of attachment. “Save Me,” from his 2009 recording Aperçu, fell into cliché of the sort avoided in his other lyrics (“Won’t you save me?/’Cause I’m drowning/In a stormy sea”).
The songs Jarrett hadn’t yet recorded were among his best. One of the more touching and musically diverse pieces, “Bella Russian Prayer,” was about women from the area near Chernobyl, two of them suffering from cancer. “Tumbleweed” found him trapped in a fence corner like the namesake, windblown brush tangled in barb wire. At the evening’s close, Jarrett announced, “This is the last solo gig I do forever or the first one I’ve done in 10 years.” Let’s hope it’s the latter.