Although no one has designated it as such, the performing arts season of 2011-12 may well end up being remembered as "the year of the pianists." An extraordinarily talented and legendary number of jazz and classical musicians have passed through the area lately and more are on the way. On the jazz front we've already seen McCoy Tyner, Brad Mehldau and Herbie Hancock. Ahmad Jamal will be performing in December. On the classical side Yefim Bronfman, Thomas Ades have already given stellar performances and in the weeks and months ahead Lang Lang, Marc Andre Hamelin, Alexander Melnikov, Christian Zacharias, Leif Ove Andsnes, Murray Perahia, Andras Schiff, Richard Goode and many others will perform locally. It's an abundance of riches, to be sure.

The Keith Jarrett Trio: L to R- Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Peacock. Photo by Rose Anne Jarrett

The bar was seriously raised last night when Cal Performances presented the Keith Jarrett Trio at Zellerbach Hall. Comprised of Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, these men have been performing together for more than 25 years and it shows at every turn. The notoriously picky pianist seemed in good spirits as he led them through a 2/12 hour performance of standards which held the full house rapt. With the piano situated onstage so his back was toward most of the audience, his head often bowed so far down toward the keys it couldn't be seen, Jarrett's improvisations were stunningly intricate, with developments you couldn't see coming but always went in the most natural direction, ending in denouements which only seemed inevitable once they arrived.

Peacock was always right there in the middle of it, extremely present yet never drawing attention his playing. His was one of the most subtle and complex performances on the instrument I've witnessed, filling in the empty spaces between the piano and drums with notes which made one pay close attention. At the age of 76 he shows no signs of slowing down.  DeJohnette's drum playing was magnificent, especially when he picked up the brushes during the second half. A fully-integrated component of the trio, not just the timekeeper, his timing and taste are impeccable. As the performance progressed, the trio just got tighter and tighter, each number sounding better than the last. This was jazz at its best.

The concert was comprised of standards, including a wonderful version of "Fever" in the first set and concluded with two encores, the last of which was a gorgeous, intricate take on "When I Fall in Love," which Jarrett dedicated to someone with whom he has recently done just that.

In a season of heavy-hitters, this performance set a standard which will be hard to top. The trio has a new album out called Rio and their tour concludes Tuesday night in Seattle.

Set list:
You Go To My Head
Once Upon A Time
One For Majid
Life's A Bowl of Cherries
Balled (?)
Sandu (?)
Things Ain't What They Used to Be (Duke Ellington)

I Didn't Know What Love Was
When I Fall In Love