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Charlie Haden/John Taylor: Nightfall

John Kelman By

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Bassist Charlie Haden is in the enviable position of being able to play with pretty much anyone he wants. From his own Quartet West to duet recordings with Kenny Barron, Egberto Gismonti, and Pat Metheny to collaborations with Paul Bley, Joe Henderson, and Paul Motian, his spare yet deeply emotional approach has also made him a highly in demand session player. When the audiophile Naim gave him the chance to produce another in a series of duet recordings, his choice this time was British pianist John Taylor. The result, Nightfall , will be no surprise for Haden fans; but it does reveal a different side to Taylor’s playing.

Taylor who, aside from his own projects, is a regular member of projects by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and reedman John Surman, has a style that is typified by an impressionistic and harmonically dense style. A sensitive player, and never one to waste a note, he tends to create rich clusters of sound, leaning towards abstraction while remaining deeply lyrical. On this outing, however, driven more by Haden’s choice of material and contributing but two compositions of his own, he displays a more stripped down sound; the harmonies are as abstruse as always, but are more spacious, less close.

That’s not to say the compositions don't provide challenge, but Haden's compositions tend to be simpler vehicles for improvisation. "Chairman Mao" revolves around a straightforward ascending and descending pattern; "Nightfall" is a simple but moving eight-bar melody; and the oft-recorded "Silence," with its two chords to the bar, is deceptively straightforward until one hears what Taylor does to move through its compelling structure. Even Haden's choice of cover material is characteristically spare, from Don Sebesky's "Bittersweet" to William Walton's "Touch Her Soft Lips."

Taylo's two compositions, however, take a more oblique view. Both "Au Contraire" and "Windfall" demonstrate a richer sense of harmony, but under Haden's direction the approach is more economical than one might expect had this been Taylor's session.

Taylor's touch is deft as always. On "Windfall," the most outgoing piece on the album, he displays a musical perspicacity, empathically finding the common ground between his impressionistic complexity and Haden's almost folk-like simplicity. Haden's sound is characteristically visceral, resonating deep in the body. Spartan yet strangely elegant, one can almost feel him choose the absolutely right note for the moment.

On this introspective programme, Haden and Taylor create moments of unadulterated beauty. The almost painful poignancy of "Touch Her Soft Lips" is a benchmark for the rest of the recording, as is the melancholy "My Love and I." Impeccably recorded, live with no editing, Nightfall puts two players with different approaches together; the result is both hauntingly beautiful and a lesson in simplicity.

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Track Listing: Chairman Mao; Nightfall; My Love and I; Au Contraire; Windfall; Touch Her Soft Lips; Song for the Whales; Bittersweet; Silence.

Personnel: Charlie Haden: double-bass; John Taylor: piano.

Title: Nightfall | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Naim Label


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