Charlie Haden's Nocturne
February 8, 2003
When Charlie Haden took to the stage of Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art, his face beamed as he scanned what was a full house of enthusiastic fans. Even before playing a note, Haden seemed compelled to mention the inspiration he had taken from many of the art works he had seen while touring the galleries at the museum earlier in the day. Then he went on to extol Cleveland’s virtues, adding that according to album sales figures, his most recent album American Dreams has sold more copies in Cleveland than in such urban centers as New York or Los Angeles.
The occasion of Haden’s appearance in Cleveland (and a rare one at that) was the performance of music from his Grammy Award-winning Nocturne and most of the original players who were involved in that project were on hand, including pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, saxophonist David Sanchez, drummer Ignacio Berroa, and violinist Federico Britos Ruiz.
It seems that with his projects of recent years, Haden seems bent on painting with a softer hue that is often diametrically opposed to the kind of radical avant-garde stance that many associate with Haden during his formative years. The music from Nocturne is no exception, with the folkloric boleros that serve as fodder for Rubalcaba’s arrangements never making it much past your traditional ballad tempo. And therein lies the rub, because as beautiful and delicate as the music was throughout the performance, under the surface was a nagging desire to hear Haden and his cohorts break into an up-tempo romp that would dispel an irksome awareness of similitude.
One had to have just a bit of compassion for Berroa, who had limited opportunities for expressing himself much past the traditional swish-swish sound of his brushes. Sanchez, on the other hand, utilized extreme breath control in voicing his delicate statements, yet there was a burning fire smoldering just below the surface that coaxed from him some of the most radiant moments of the evening. At one point, the saxophonist even quoted a phrase from Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt” as if to suggest that his thought process too was on something just a bit more extroverted. Haden’s solo opportunities were few, but he made the most of what he allowed himself, despite the fact that the decision to go for the minimal amount of amplification meant that his bass lines were often swallowed up by the rest of the ensemble.
Haden has acknowledged that his love of film noire has had a direct impact on his musical statement of the past several years. He’s clearly longing for the beauty and space that comes with the kind of lush balladic pieces that he chooses to explore. So maybe the onus is on all of us to catch up with Haden’s current developments, yet like even with the most enjoyable things in life, too much of a good thing can be a plausible certainty when taken to the extreme.