REVIEW: Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra directed by Carla Bley at Cadogan Hall (2016 EFG LJF)

Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, Cadogan Hall,2016 (*)
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra directed by Carla Bley
(Cadogan Hall, 20th November 2016, EFG London Jazz Festival, Review by Peter Slavid)


Before I start talking about this gig I should really declare an interest. Although my main personal interest is in European Jazz, I have been a huge fan of Carla Bley, and of Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Ensemble since I first came across them in the early 1970s. In fact much of my interest in European jazz was nurtured by the Carla Bley big bands that toured across Europe with the cream of European musicians.

So the chances were good that I would enjoy this concert. Bley has been one of the finest arrangers in modern jazz for nearly 50 years.. A terrific composer, a fine pianist – but above all an astonishing arranger. She manages to drag sounds from a big-band that nobody else can get. Somehow she layers sound on top of sound and still leaves the space for soloists to deliver in their very different styles and yet all seems to be part of a coherent whole.

Despite the sad absence of Charlie Haden, The “Liberation Music Orchestra” name has clearly lost none of it's ability to attract a distinguished and eclectic array of talent. And the show was introduced by Ruth Cameron, Charlie's widow.

A lot of tonight's music came from the recently released Time/Life: Song for the Whales and Other Beings (CD review HERE) which was Haden's last recording, and focussed on environmental issues. Much as I enjoyed that CD I felt it lacked some of the anger that had driven the earlier LMO recordings, perhaps because of Haden's absence or maybe the subject matter.

L-R: Carla Bley, Darek Oles, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, Cadogan Hall, 2016 (*)
Photo credit: Paul Wood


At the start of the concert the sound was a bit muffled and the soloists not always clear, but fortunately that soon got sorted out. As well as the new CD, three tracks came from the 2004 album Not in our name which was a protest against the war in Iraq. And once the band launched into America The Beautiful any doubts I had were swept away. All the old passion and complexity and quirkiness and irony were there – followed by Bley's astonishing arrangement of Amazing Grace and everything went from strength to strength after that.

As usual the band featured a range of solo styles. Bley has always favoured raucous brass and lyrical saxes and this was no exception with Tony Malaby probably the standout soloist. But everyone made telling contributions, and it's invidious to single out individuals in what was a true ensemble performance.


Carla Bley, Cadogan Hall, 2016 (*)
Photo credit: Paul Wood



The band was the star, and with Carla Bley now 80 and looking increasingly frail, we may not see their like again.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a radio programme of European jazz at www.mixcloud.com/ukjazz
(*) Pictures taken at the soundcheck

Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra

Carla Bley (piano, conductor)
Tony Malaby (saxophone)
Chris Cheek (saxophone)
Loren Stillman (saxophone)
Michael Rodriguez (trumpet)
Seneca Black (trumpet)
Vincent Chancey (French hor
n) Marshall Gilkes (trombone)
Earl McIntyre (tuba)
Steve Cardenas (guitar)
Darek Oles (bass)
Matt Wilson (drums)


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