Composer/bandleader Charlie Haden has been one of THE jazz bass giants to come of age in the post-bop generation. If he did nothing but play in the groundbreaking Ornette Coleman Quartet (the 50s/early 60s), his place in history would be assured. Fortunately for us, he’s done MUCH more: aside from his many recordings as a leader (of organizations including Liberation Music Orchestra and Quartet West), Haden has performed and/or recorded with a veritable Who’s Who: Chet Baker, Jimmy Rowles, Hampton Hawes, Joe Henderson, Paul Motian, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Ginger Baker, Don Cherry, Rickie Lee Jones and even the minimalist punk-funk trio The Minutemen. To celebrate his 65th birthday, Haden has been performing a two-week series of duets with several ace piano players at NYC’s Blue Note. This particular Saturday show found him paired with Geri Allen. The rectangular-shaped club (W. 3rd near 6th Ave.; some great specialty drinks) was filled to capacity with eager fans from the city, the US of A and beyond.
Haden has been rightly known for one of the biggest, fattest, sturdiest, most resilient and individualistic bass sounds in jazz, and tonight saw no reason to give anyone reason to revise that reputation. Power, precision, warmth and swing reside within his playing - sure, other bassists may be flashier, more "dexterous," but few are as purely MUSICAL as Haden. I’d heard Ms. Allen’s recordings on a few other occasions in times past, but nothing that prepared me for her sterling performance this night. She oftimes reminded me of Dave Brubeck not so much for her overall sound, which was indeed all hers, but for the qualities they share: plain-spoken tunefulness, a percussive style, more than a touch of classical technique (on the first tune her playing was especially reminiscent of J.S. Bach) and economical use of notes. Performing tunes by Haden, Coleman and Charlie Parker, Haden and Allen had a remarkable rapport: they never crowded each other; they complimented each other magnificently, with the natural symmetry of raindrops or intimate dance partners. During one extended solo, Haden let his rural/country/Ozark roots shine through (when he was just a wee lad, he sang in his family’s Carter Family-style group): he quoted from a few traditional folk and country tunes, among them "Barbara Allen" and "Old Joe Clark" and it sounded as natural as breathing. [Personally, of all the musical fusions and mutations, I feel that jazz-country remains as a relatively unexplored frontier, some of Bill Frisell’s works notwithstanding.] As icing on the (birthday) cake, when Mr. Haden spoke to the audience at the set's conclusion he was genuinely gracious and witty, and the Blue Note sound was first-rate.