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Charlie Haden Quartet West: Norwich, UK May 19, 2011

Bruce Lindsay By

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Charlie Haden Quartet West
St Peter Mancroft Church
Norwich, UK
May 19, 2011

The warm and sunny spring weather meant that queuing outside the venue was more of a pleasure than a chore for the jazz fans waiting to see and hear Charlie Haden Quartet West in the impressive surroundings of St Peter Mancroft church, in the centre of Norwich. Good-natured conversation, often with strangers, added to the pleasure and when the doors of this beautiful Norfolk church opened the fans soon took their places, mostly in the solid, if rather uncomfortable, pews. Quartet West took to the stage only a few minutes later, to play a 90-minute set filled with memorable moments of beautiful music.

The performance was part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. At the 2009 festival, Polish trumpeter Thomas Stańko played a wonderfully atmospheric set that proved the room's suitability as a jazz venue. Haden and his band mates—pianist Alan Broadbent, tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts and drummer Rodney Green—are too experienced a group to be overwhelmed by this ancient church, which was built in the early fifteenth century. But they were clearly impressed by it, and Haden declared his delight at playing in the building in a lengthy between-songs conversation.

Despite some voice problems Haden spent some time talking to the audience. He was charming, often funny, and occasionally thoughtful. His blatant plugging of the Quartet's latest album, Sophisticated Ladies (EmArcy, 2010), as he took to the stage, was amusing, as was his anecdote about referring to his mother as "Man," while his later discussion of the importance of "good ears" and a willingness to listen was almost spiritual.

The onstage chemistry between the four men—and the obvious respect which they have for each other—was readily communicated to the audience. On more than one occasion, Haden shouted, with obvious relish, "What a band!" Broadbent's lilting piano solo on "Child's Play" brought applause from Haden and Watts, while Haden cheered Green's masterful drum solo on the same tune with a loud "Whoo!"

Quartet West played half a dozen tunes, ranging from Irving Berlin's 1923 composition, "What'll I Do?," to "Today I am A Man" from the group's Sophisticated Ladies (EmArcy, 2010). The set also included a version of "Lonely Woman," from Haden's days with Ornette Coleman, which found Watts taking on the saxophone role with style.

Watts featured strongly on "First Song." The tune's smoky, '50s film noir vibe was beautifully communicated, conjuring images of dark, damp, city sidewalks—even within the church walls. Watts opened and closed the tune with a rapturously received solo, while Haden crafted one of his finest solos of the evening—a mournful and reflective performance that filled the auditorium and was similarly well-received.

This was Quartet West's only British appearance outside London on this trip—something of a coup for the festival team. The combination of venue and music was gloriously successful.

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