Formed by bassist Charlie Haden in 1969 to protest America's war in Vietnam/Indochina, the Liberation Music Orchestra has reconvened roughly every ten years to record musical protest in the face of major injustices. Time/Life: Song for the Whales and Other Beings
was inspired by concern at global ecological destruction, and to that end the music has a pervasive melancholy colored by the LMO's signature lyricism, and broken up by stirring collective and individual passages.
The LMO's personnel has changed significantly over the yearshardly surprising in an occasional enterprise approaching its half centurybut ten of the twelve musicians who played on the previous LMO outing, Not in Our Name
(Verve, 2005) remain, resulting in a familiar band sound that's as keenly felt in Bley's orchestral ensemble notation as it is in the soloing.
Two live tracks recorded at the 2011 Jazz Middleheim Festival in Belgium feature Haden, who would pass away in 2014 before the record's completion; while Steve Swallow
brings his distinctive electric bass sound to the three studio tracks written by Carla Bley
the LMO's pianist and arranger since the first LMO incarnation.
"Blue In Green"the two major colors of planet Earth?is perhaps a tenuous inclusion in otherwise thematically linked compositions, but it's hard to resist Bley's lush, slow-breathing arrangement of this hauntingly beautiful Miles Davis
tune. Michael Rodriguez
stars, but Haden's trademark searching solo and tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek
's poignant response are no less captivating. At song's end, a slightly frail-sounding Haden introduces the band one-by-one.
Fast-forward five years to the studio on Bley's bitter-sweet elegy "Time/Life," and the LMO members, one by one, pay tribute to Haden. Tony Malaby
's extended tenor solo conveys the great emotional depth of one of Bley's most captivating compositions, with a subsequent series of short solos as tender, final farewells.
Swallow and guitarist Steve Cardenas
(on acoustic) combine in a gentle waltz on "Silent Spring," a reworking of a Bley tune that first appeared on Gary Burton
's A Genuine Tong Funeral
(RCA, 1968). This Spanish-tinged dirge sees Cheek and Rodriguez in expansive form, though the real star is Bley's arrangement, which pits rhythmic pulses and brass voicings in a metronomic call-and-response, as the LMO swells and recedes with all the color and mournful drama of a seasonor a lifepassing.
"Útviklingssang" is another older Bley composition, written in the '70s in response to the impact of dam construction in the north of Norway. Alto saxophonist Loren Stillman
and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes
come to the fore, with strikingly spare accompaniment from the rhythm section. Bley's less-is-more arrangement accentuates the achingly pretty melody of this most affecting blues ballad.
Haden's bow conjures eerily convincing leviathan sonorities on "Song for the Whales," a tune from the great Old and New Dreams quartet of the '70s that, featuring Haden alongside Don Cherry
, Dewey Redman
and Ed Blackwell
, paid tribute to past employer Ornette Coleman
. Driven by Matt Wilson
and Haden in tandem, Malaby's tortured tenor cries scream protest. Haden once again works his wand-like bow to give voice to the whales, closing this live performance with a poignant address to the audience extolling the wonder of existence. "It's so important to remember how precious this life is..." Time/Life
There's likely more LMO live material in the vaults somewhere, but if Time/Life
proves to be the final chapter in the story, then these heartfelt performances will provide a fitting and moving tribute to Haden and his lifelong musical quest to make the world a better place.