Last February, Wayne Shorter and his quartet played the Portland Marriott ballroom, christening the city's inaugural jazz festival with a performance that over the next twelve months has remained a source of inspiration for musical circles on both sides of the Willamette River. This year it was Charlie Haden's turn to make waves.
The venerable Grammy-winning bassist led a parade of big-name jazz artists appearing at the 2nd Annual Portland Jazz Festival, a nine-day procession (February 11-20) that featured the Dave Holland Quintet, Patricia Barber, Andy Narell, Luciana Souza, Joe Locke, John Patitucci, Danilo Perez, Dianne Reeves, and The Bad Plus. Mr. Haden, center stage in dark clothes and light spirits, commended Oregon's blue state status in the 2004 election before embarking on a seven-tune, two-hour set with tenor man Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent, and drummer Rodney Green (filling in for Larance Marable). Astonishingly, Quartet West succeeded in transforming the Marriott's cavernous, 150x150x11 square-foot ballroom into an intimate musical venue, to the delight of its 600-plus occupants.
Charlie's subtle, understated double-basswarm in tone, clear in pitchbalanced melody and space during solo passages like the steady meditative breathing of a body at rest. In this environment the audience's collective mind was free to consider a thousand subjective details of the musical narrative. The random audible snap of right index finger completing its journey from plucked E-string to open palm only heightened the hypnotic effect.
Ernie Watts, playing yin to Haden's yang, provided rapid-fire solo sweeps on tenor sax. His how-many-notes-can-squeeze-into-this-measure approach to the music garnered scattered ovations for technical ability. Drowned, however, in his tsunami of sound was any semblance of creative inquiry. Watts' solos on Charlie Parker's "Dexterity" and "Segment" left this listener gasping for air, flailing in a swell of arpeggios, and praying for the lifeline of Haden's bass strings.
Alan Broadbent brought a decidedly classical influence to the evening's material, employing a cascade of block chords across the entire keyboard during his solo on Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman." For his part, Rodney Green proved an expert rhythm accompanist; his pianissimo brush and cymbal support was especially appreciated.
But this night belonged to Charlie Haden. His encore rendition of "Body and Soul" (with Watts laying out) revealed a tapestry of melodic beauty that punctuated a special night in the young life of the Portland Jazz Festivalone likely to produce ripples of praise up and down the Willamette for months to come.
Visit Charlie Haden on the web.