Friday, September 26, 2008

Charlie Haden Bridges the Jazz/Country Gap

Along with Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Charles Mingus, Charlie Haden's sound was most in my ears when I was first getting fired up about jazz. I heard Haden first, as most jazz listeners did, in the context of Ornette Coleman's recordings in the '50's and 60's. That woody gut string sound, so in tune, attracted me more to Ornette's music than anything else, at first. The saxophonist's sound takes some getting used to but the luxurious purity of Haden's sound is difficult to dislike.

Haden's heroic approach, rooted in folk melodies, along with his primary use of the lower register of the bass, is the antithesis of upwardly mobile players like Scott LaFaro, Eddie Gomez, George Mraz, Marc Johnson and so many other great modern bassists. Haden plays deliberately; he takes his own sweet time spinning out melodies and bass lines.

The contrast between Haden's style and the playing of LaFaro et al evokes an unfortunate schism in the jazz world with regard to bass playing. So many players (and some listeners as well) seem to have a prejudice for a certain way of approaching the bass that excludes all other possible sounds and means. I've touched on this before, and I imagine I will address it more thoroughly in a future post. For me, however, Charlie Haden is the master of low and slow, just as LaFaro demonstrated how effective the upper range of the bass could be. If you're interested in hearing this stylistic diversity directly, check out Ornette's seminal Free Jazz. He uses both great bassists on that recording.

Then came the Liberation Music Orchestra, Quartet West, and Haden's duo recordings with so many wonderful musicians over the last couple of decades. Now he has gone back to his familial roots with a recording of country music called Rambling Boy. It features his family and some of the most accomplished Nashville artists. I've yet to hear the project but I am looking forward to checking it out, despite my lack of interest in country music generally. Anything Charlie is associated with deserves a deep listen, since his concept and playing are always full of sincerity and integrity.

There's a nice piece in the NY Times by Nate Chinen about Haden and the new project. And Haden was interviewed by the ever insightful Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

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