To commemorate bassist extraordinaire Charlie Haden's 70th birthday, the British boutique label Naim has released this two-disc set of vintage Haden concerts from the late '80s. Both shows were recorded in intimate settings before friends and family: the first a 1987 birthday gig in Los Angeles and the second a homecoming show in Missouri a few months later.
The two dates feature bands that are basically Haden's bebop-focused Quartet West, along with a pair of superb guest drummers: longtime cohorts Billy Higgins (on disc one) and Paul Motian (on disc two). The set lists reflect Haden's broad range and musical accomplishments from classic jazz to the more avant-garde, including three tunes each by Charlie Parker and Pat Metheny, one by his old boss Ornette Coleman (a stirring 22-minute take on "Lonely Woman") and even a stab at some Bach "Etudes."
Whatever the song or style, the two bands are in exceptional form, never losing control or focus on the more whirlwind numbers, while mining all the emotional heft from ballads like the evergreen "Body and Soul." The underappreciated saxophonist Ernie Watts stands out among the stellar cast, providing appropriately dramatic squawks and warbles on the Coleman tune and flying gloriously through the bebop lines on the Bird numbers. The classy pianist Alan Broadbent is in top shape, too, as are the two drummers, with Higgins playing the somewhat more aggressive role and Motian excelling on the quieter tunes. For his part, Haden's bass playing is melodic, on the money and occasionally cheeky, as when he inserts an extended Country-Western quote into his solo on "Lonely Woman," a sly nod to his early days singing country music on the radio with his family.