The Charlie Haden London Concerts
(Barbican Hall, May 21st and 22nd 2011, Photo credits: Roger Thomas)
21st: Quartet West with Liane Carroll, Ruth Cameron and Melody Gardot)
22nd: The (Anglo-American) Liberation Music Orchestra, dir. Carla Bley
The Barbican's 2011 Charlie Haden concerts, venerating the 73-year old bassist, were conceived to be viewed as a diptych. Seen on consecutive nights, they memorably brought out the two contrasting sides of his unique contribution to the music of the past half-century.
The first concert featured Quartet West, a group which for 25 years has investigated and basked in precisely the same 40s film noir film/jazz inheritance which this weekend has been celebrated in the launch of the new Rockstar game "LA Noire" - see our feature.
The second brought to the stage the Anglo- American Liberation Music Orchestra, which trawls the repertoire of four protest albums brought out during the presidencies of four conservative American presidents. Again, there was a coincidence in timing: it was on the same day as an American president justified in person on BBC TV, the US's continued incursions in other territories.
Quartet West (Haden, Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone, Alan Broadbent on piano and Rodney Green on drums, above) produced an evening of great contrasts in mood, timbre, volume. From a particularly fiery opener "Today I am a Man" to a poised and hushed "First Song (for Ruth)" to the angular spooky classic "Lonely Woman," to the bouncy cha-cha of Childs Play. The three guest singers - Liane Carroll with stunning control of phrasing and narrative, Ruth Cameron with sincerity, and Melody Gardot with superhuman sostenuto took their moments well.
All four quartet players found the right mode of expression for a 1900-seater concert hall, and the crowd loved it. Ernie Watts and drummer Rodney Green captured every shifting mood. But I found myself above all being drawn in again and again by the subtle perfection of Alan Broadbent's piano playing. Accompanying Ruth Cameron in "Let's Call it a Day," every single fill and comment provided a gorgeous, cogent, through-composed countermelody. At other times he would variously set the scene for a song perfectly, or re-invent the Bach Two-Part Invention, or with fleetness of technique leave the likes of Rachmnaninov and Liszt gasping for breath several paces behind. And yet his playing is never intrusive, never selfish, somehow attention-grabbing without ever being attention-seeking.
The Liberation Orchestra is a great vehicle for Carla Bley's compositions, those sardonic waltzes, those reggae beats seen through a prism of Kurt Weill. The voice in the band I tend to listen out for is one of those protesting jazz voices which gets you to sit up and listen, the tailgate trombone. In Haden's orchestra I associate it with Roswell Rudd (b.1935) who went on to work with Arche Shepp. Last night that role was taken by Alastair White, particularly persuasive in "This is not America." But overall this was a band without a single weak link. John Parricelli, as ever, is there giving exactly what is needed to the texture and rising over it when required. Oren Marshall on tuba and Jim Rattigan on french horn seemed to make every one of their contributions count.
The freestage events were also successful. Musicians turned out in force to hear the Gretchen Parlato freestage - those three words are unlikely ever to make a phrase again, and rightly, on the Saturday. And there was a strong and appreciative audience for Robert Mitchell's lively, loud and likeable trio. The second night was overall not as well attended as the first, which was a shame.
At the end of each evening Haden had the last word, extolling the audience for their "great ears" and having listened intently, and producing a paean to beaty and compassion. But perhaps he had spoken most eloquently just before, in a duo with Carla Bley in the last number. That was one of those moments in the Barbican hall when you forget how many other people and purple seats there are around you, when you sense that every person in the hall has succumbed to the power of musicians who know how to communicate.
Produced by the Barbican Centre and Serious
A further selection of Roger Thomas's photos from the concerts are HERE