Despite having contributed to the decline of bebop on Paul Bley's Solemn Meditation (1957) and to the birth of free jazz with his performances on Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) and John Coltrane's The Avant-Garde (1960), Los Angeles-based white bassist Charlie Haden (1937) was rarely faithful to his roots in the rest of his career.
Raised in the Midwest to country music, Haden brought to jazz the typical
sensitivity of provincial America, of simple things for simple people,
a populist viewpoint that his political beliefs turned into a Woody Guthrie-like
The Noam Chomsky of jazz music,
he always seemed more interested in the message than in the music
Surprisingly for such an outspoken critic of mainstream USA culture, Haden's
music has tended to gravitate around relatively conservative musical paradigms,
emphasizing melody, graceful counterpoint and mellow atmospheres.
Thus Haden has actually been one of the jazz musicians who crossed over into
pop and folk music in the most deliberate manner.
In 1967 Haden joined Keith Jarrett's trio with Paul Motian, one of the most
dinstictive acts of fusion jazz. While he worked with Jarrett (and Ornette
Coleman, whom he never abandoned),
Haden made only one recording as a leader, but it was a sensational one.
He formed the Liberation Music Orchestra with a huge cast of improvisers:
Don Cherry on cornet and flutes,
Dewey Redman on alto and tenor saxophones,
Gato Barbieri on tenor saxophone and clarinet,
Michael Mantler on trumpet,
Roswell Rudd on trombone,
Perry Robinson on clarinet,
Bob Northern on French horn,
Howard Johnson on tuba,
Sam Brown on guitar,
Carla Bley on piano,
Charlie Haden on bass.
Paul Motian on percussion.
Their Song for Che (april 1969), that sold well to the rock audience, focused on protest songs arranged by Carla Bley, but the real standout was Haden's Song For Che.
Hamburg '72 (june 1972) documents the trio of Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian performing a 14-minute live version of Haden's Song For Che.
When his engagement with Jarrett came to an end, Haden launched into a series
of duos. Sandwiched between the
mediocre duets with pianist Hampton Hawes of
As Long as There's Music (august 1976)
and the mediocre duets with gypsy guitarist Christian Escoude of
Gitane (september 1978),
were two volumes of duets with assorted jazz giants.
Closeness (march 1976) offered
the nine-minute Ellen David with Keith Jarrett on piano,
the nine-minute O.C. with Ornette Coleman on alto,
the 12-minute For Turiya with Alice Coltrane on harp,
the eight-minute For A Free Portugal with Paul Motian on percussion.
Golden Number (december 1976) contained
the 19-minute Out Of Focus with Don Cherry on trumpet
the 12-minute Shepp's Way with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp,
the 12-minute Golden Number with Ornette Coleman on trumpet.
In the same year, Haden joined other Coleman alumni (Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Ed Blackwell to record Old And New Dreams (october 1976).
That transitional phase ended with another trio, this time
with saxophonist Jan Garbarek and Brazilian guitarist/pianist Egberto Gismonti, that recorded two uninspired albums, Magico (june 1979), that included Haden's Silence, and Folk Songs (november 1979).
The second Liberation Music Orchestra album, The Ballad Of The Fallen (november 1982), a collaboration with arranger Carla Bley, was devoted to communist-inspired folk tunes from all over the world. The terrific players (Don Cherry on trumpet, Michael Mantler on trumpet, Gary Valente on trombone, Sharon Freeman on French horn, Jack Jeffers on tuba, Steve Slagle on saxophones, carinet and flute, Jim Pepper on saxophones and flute, Dewey Redman on tenor saxophone, Mick Goodrick on guitar, Charlie Haden on bass, Carla Bley on piano, Paul Motian on drums) were wasted on poor material (La Pasionaria was the only major contribution by Haden).
Haden was mostly active as a sessionman for other leaders
(Ornette Coleman till 1987,
Alice Coltrane in 1971-75,
Art Pepper 1975-82,
Pat Metheny 1980-85,
Geri Allen 1987-90,
Paul Motian 1988-91,
John Scofield 1988-91,
Gonzalo Rubalcaba 1989-92,
Abbey Lincoln 1990-94),
but in 1987 he cut Etudes (september 1987), a pretentious trio session with drummer Paul Motian and pianist Geri Allen,
and then formed his own quartet (with tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent and drummer Larance Marble), that recorded old-fashioned bebop album, mostly devoted to covers, starting with Quartet West (december 1986) and
In Angel City (june 1988), with his celebrated First Song.
At the turn of the decade Haden recorded
Silence (november 1987) and First Song (april 1990), in a trio with Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and drummer Billy Higgins,
Dialogues (january 1990) with Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes.
But, as usual, his collaborations rarely matched the quality and intensity of his work for other leaders.
The third Liberation Music Orchestra album, Dream Keeper (april 1990), was highlighted by Carla Bley's 17-minute Dreamkeeper Suite.
In the 1990s the Quartet West became a postmodernist project of deconstruction of Hollywood soundtracks of the black and white era ("noir jazz"). Haunted Heart (october 1991), Always Say Goodbye (august 1993), Now Is The Hour (july 1995) and The Art Of The Song (february 1999)
were stylish, translucent, largely devoid of substance and added samples of old recordings to the mix. This commercially successful venture was emblematic of the ideological and aesthetic surrender of the avantgarde.
The collaborations, namely
Steal Away (june 1994) with pianist Hank Jones,
Night and the City (september 1996), with pianist Kenny Barron,
Beyond the Missouri Sky (april 1996), with guitarist Pat Metheny,
None But the Lonely Heart (july 1997), with pianist Chris Anderson,
Nocturne (august 2000), with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and guests,
were not any more exciting.
American Dreams (may 2002) was a tribute of sorts to the USA for a jazz quartet (tenorist Michael Brecker, pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Brian Blade) and a 34-piece string orchestra.
The fourth political sermon by the Liberation Music Orchestra, Not In Our Name (august 2004), was likewise highlighted by a 17-minute thematic collage, America the Beautiful, arranged by Carla Bley.
The Private Collection (2008) collects a live 1987 concert and a recording from 1988.
Jasmine (march 2007) was a collaboration between Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden.
The Quartet West (with new drummer Rodney Green) returned for Sophisticated Ladies (july 2010), that featured a string section (16 violinist, 8 violist and 8 celloist) and several female vocalists Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Renee Fleming and his wife Ruth Cameron.
The last Liberation Music Orchestra album, Time/Life (2016) simply collects unreleased material, including a live Song For The Whales (august 2011) and three new compositions by Carla Bley (january 2015).
Haden died in July 2014.