Monday, May 16, 2011

Charlie's weekend: From the nightclub to the trenches

© Jimmy Katz
Charlie Haden (b. 1937) is an exceptional musician. Exceptional as in being an exception, one of those characters that are to be celebrated if only for just not fitting your regular jazz musician profile. His journey from white, country singing boy from Shenandoah, Iowa, to foundation of Ornette Coleman's ground-breaking quartet, to politically outspoken frontman, to leader of the cool and sophisticated Quartet West, could easily encompass the careers of several men.

For a single man, only a solid artistic coherence and honesty can hold together such diverse threads of the same rope. In Haden's case, it seems to boil down to his deeply rooted musicality, his unaffected lyricism and his genuine love for his instrument: unlike some other top players, he's consistently resisted the urge to make the double bass sound like a lighter instrument. On the contrary, he seems to cherish the natural gravitas of the bull fiddle. This probably best appreciated in his numerous duo recordings, the latest of which, his second volume with the greatly missed Hank Jones, should come out in the Autumn.

Long before that, next Saturday and Sunday, it's Charlie's Weekend at the Barbican. Like his career, these will be two nights of contrasts. On the first one, the Quartet West (with Ernie Watts, Alan Broadbent, and Rodney Green), one of the most elegant jazz combos around, will introduce their current release, Sophisticated Ladies (Emarcy), dedicated to the great tradition of American female singers (with Liane Carroll, Melody Gardot, and Ruth Cameron on stage). For many this will sound like a boring premise, but the QW is one of the few bands that can give it substance.

Sunday night will be devoted to almost the extreme opposite of Saturday's urbane sounds. The Liberation Music Orchestra was established as a vehicle for political protest and vindication. Their 1969 debut on Impulse! was a comment on the Spanish Civil War, a 30-year old event in a foreign country. Still with composer and arranger Carla Bley co-leading an Anglo-American ensemble in this occasion, it'll be interesting to see what these two children of the Sixties make today of the current state of affairs in the world and their own country through their music.

Many words have been written about the power and versatility of music to evoke and provoke. These two concerts will be hard-proof of it.

PS: Gretchen Parlato was one of the great surprises at last year's London Jazz Festival. She'll be singing at the Barbican's FreeStage on Saturday 21, at 18:00.

Charlie Haden plays at the Barbican on May 21-22. For more details and other related events, see the Barbican, and Serious.

For more about Haden, this in-depth profile by Francis Davis is recommended. Haden's own website is here.

Music on-line: MySpace, Spotify

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