The world has never heard a Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau duet album. Impulse! records has now made it possible with the release of Long Ago and Far Away, their first duo appearance, recorded live in 2007.
At the Charlie Haden memorial at New York’s Town Hall, on January 13, 2015, Mehldau acknowledged how Haden, a one-time heroin addict in his twenties, had helped him through dark times of his own.
“Charlie was a musical and spiritual mentor to me,” he said after Charlie Haden’s wife reflected that her husband “felt a responsibility to impart beauty to the world and to see creative music as an alternative way of looking at the world. He felt at home and safe when he played music. He faced challenges in his life—polio and addiction—and he felt like he had to keep a constant vigil. He would say, ‘I’m in trouble when I put my bass down.”
Haden recognized Mehldau’s ability to advance the language of jazz with his distinctive voice on the piano and his harmonic sophistication. He eagerly sought future encounters with his soulmate, leading to an invite from the Enjoy Jazz Festival for them to play together in November 2007 in the art nouveau cathedral, the Christuskirche, in Mannheim, Germany. It was their first duo appearance and it was recorded.
Long Ago and Far Away: the dream came true
Haden possessed the tape and he listened to it often and desired to have it documented as a live album. That dream came true in October when Impulse! Records/Universal Music Canada released Long Ago and Far Away—yet another brilliant addition to the Charlie Haden duo oeuvre. Mehldau reflected on the concert, “It’s thrilling to play with someone who improvises like this … [Ornette Coleman’s quartet] often it was free of a fixed harmonic schema … and Charlie was improvising the harmony from the ground up.”
Long Ago and Far Away opens with Mehldau and Haden in a playful anarchic space with “Au Priv.” The pianist seems to be dancing the melody at times, whilst the bassist surrounds him with a soft lyrical tenderness, setting the improvisational fluidity to come. Like most of Haden’s duo shows, this has the emotional undercurrent of quietness—a contemplative, spiritual realm. There are also no repertoire surprises, but a deep element of listening and conversing at work throughout. The title track, an Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern tune from the 1944 film musical Cover Girl (starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly), has Mehldau stepping up with a tinge of swing and a staccato single-finger fling in the midst while Haden, intent on his partner’s searches, brings his bass to a space where new ways of hearing the tune open up. The pair also relaxes into solo transcendence on one of Haden’s all-time favorite tunes, “My Love and I,” composed by David Rasmin for the 1954 film The Apache. The bassist, who recorded the number with Quartet West, is on the record as describing the song as having “a deep melody and very deep chords.”
The entire live recording has that pleasing mystical sense of tension and release, with each improviser developing the other’s ideas, bouncing off each other’s inventiveness, in a relaxed trust. They are two storytellers having a loving conversation.