Whether or not music can have a social and/or political conscience in and of itself is often debated, but that it can respond to such conditions is unquestionable. From Dave Douglas' Witness, which stemmed from concerns about unilateral political action, to Pat Metheny Group's The Way Up, a considered response to the "dumbing down of society, music may not be able to effect change, but it can certainly act as a rallying point, a considered expression of intentions that go far deeper than simple artistry.
Over the years bassist/composer/bandleader Charlie Haden and pianist/composer/arranger/bandleader Carla Bley have come together under the banner of the Liberation Music Orchestra at times when they feel a compelling need to express their shared concerns. When they first teamed up in the late '60s, it was in response to the Vietnam War. Now, 36 years later, they've come together again for Not In Our Name, distancing themselves from the current US administration and its foreign policy through a musical programme that is as complex as the affairs they question.
Recorded at the tail end of a European tour in the summer of '04, this version of the LMO has a lot of new faces, but several common threads link this edition to past ones. Haden's overall thematic conception has always involved selecting material in response to the subject at hand, and a group of improvisers who are able to mould themselves to Bley's richly textured and relevant arrangements. Bley manages to take even the most familiar of themes and make something new of them, ranging from a reggae version of Pat Metheny's "This is Not America to a delicate but insistently building take on Bill Frisell's tender "Throughout and a remarkable interpretation of Samuel Barber's "Adagio (from Adagio for Strings) often heard in film as a dramatic soundtrack to the horror and finality of war.
Perhaps the album's most direct statement is the seventeen-minute "America The Beautiful medley, which begins with the stirring patriotism of Samuel Ward but ultimately descends into the chaos and discord of Ornette Coleman's "Skies of America. But while the twelve-piece LMO dissolves into an anarchy that is clearly reflective of Bley and Haden's view of current affairs, it is equally capable of redemption, delivering an evocatively spiritual version of "Amazing Grace that features soulful solos by trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, guitarist Steve Cardenas, and Haden.
For an album that asserts that the current administration's actions are not in the name of all Americans, this is surprisingly non-confrontational. Powerfully moving, yes, and often uplifting; but perhaps that's the ultimate goal of Not In Our Name: to express that, in the wake of all that's occurred, a more positive viewpoint can and should prevail. While there are moments of dissonance and anguish, Not in Our Name is ultimately an expression of hope for change, rather than anger. And in that regard, while the music may not have one, the conscience of its creators is abundantly clear.
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Personnel: Charlie Haden: bass; Carla Bley: piano; Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone; Tony
Malaby: tenor saxophone; Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet;
Seneca Black: trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes: trombone; Ahnee Sharon
Freeman: french horn; Joe Daley: tuba; Steve Cardenas: guitar; Matt Wilson: drums.