Bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Carla Bley, two of the more eclectic and versatile people in jazz, make a great team as musical conceptualists as a they draw on a shared vision and Bley's knack for sometimes off-kilter large ensemble arranging.
It has been 37 years since Charlie Haden and Carla Bley formed the first edition of Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra at the height of the Vietnam War. This edition launched an international tour in 2004 that began with a stunning performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and was recorded in Rome three weeks later during the European tour leg. Haden explained the project's purpose in his brief liner notes:
"We want the world to know that the devastation that this administration is wreaking is not in our name. It's not in the name of many people in this country... Our opposition to the inhumane treatment of this universe remains.
While there are brief, cohesive solos scattered throughout the work by most, if not all of the members, it is the ensemble nature of the work that makes it special. While not every tune is an "anthem per se, each of them gets a sweeping anthemic treatment and feel. Haden and Bley each wrote one tune (the title track and "Blue Anthem respectively) and drew the other material from composers ranging from Samuel Barber and Antonin Dvorák to Bill Frisell, Ornette Coleman ("Skies of America ), Gary McFarland, and Pat Metheny, among others.
The title track's chanson allusions and the way in which the Americana-referenced and musically visual Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays/David Bowie composition "This Is Not America segues right into reggae beat bring an international feel to a musical/political statement that indeed is international. "Blue Anthem begins as a soulful dirge, a feeling that Haden enriches with his midpoint bass solo leading into uplifting guitar, brass and piano counterpoint.
The centerpiece is an "America the Beautiful medley that begins with a spirited reinterpretation of the Samuel Ward original, segues into McFarland's reworking of the same tune, while the African-American spiritual "Lift Every Voice and Sing ends it. "Skies of America opening with a strong drum solo and propelled by the always-creative Matt Wilsonand the traditional "Amazing Grace are also natural fits here, as is the closing elegiac chamber arrangement of "Adagio from Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings.
Whether you agree or disagree with the politics of Bley and Haden, it is hard not to appreciate the depth and breadth of their musicality, and how the LMO brings it all to life. If there were six stars in the ratings, this disc would deserve them.
Personnel: Charlie Haden: bass; Carla Bley: piano: tambourine; Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby: tenor
sax; Miguel Zenon: alto sax; Michael Rodriguez and Seneca Black: trumpet; Curtis Fowlkes:
trombone; Ahnee Sharon Freeman: French horn; Joe Daley: tuba; Steve Cardenas: guitar;
Matt Wilson: drums.