The release of Long Ago and Far Away: a duo album between Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau provides another chapter in Haden's heralded history of engagement in free musical discourse. Below is a very selected list of Charlie Haden duo heroism on record.
When bassist Charlie Haden died on July 11, 2014, the boyish-looking, acutely reasoned and fervently committed peace-seeking devotee to political activism left us with a variety of advanced music that documented his legacy as a pioneering solo artist beyond his groundbreaking collaboration with the iconic shapeshifting contrarian Ornette Coleman. With Carla Bley, he formed his leftist-leaning Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969.
But where Haden was at his most soulful and insightful was in his duo adventurers with such a diverse cast as Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Hank Jones, Jim Hall and even his former avant partner Ornette. Haden was quoted in his website blog: “Before music there was silence, and the duet format allows you to build from the silence in a very special way.”
• Closeness (with various artists, A&M/Horizon, 1976)
Haden loves duets, so why not link up with four of his friends to have some fun and lay down eight tracks. It’s lovely Charlie with Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Alice Coltrane and Paul Motion. Quite a feast.
• Soapsuds, Soapsuds (with Ornette Coleman, Artist House, 1979)
Some listeners call this one of the greatest Haden duos ever. There’s a good reason as he and his former band leader Ornette Coleman push boundaries in this raw and edgy setting, inspiring each other in an active way. It’s all about telepathy here with Ornette on tenor sax and trumpet playing peek-a-boo in counterpoint to Haden’s sonic lyricism and pizzicato dissonance. Great track: “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”—the theme from the bizarre late-night soap opera on TV at the time where Ornette blows and Haden scampers his bass line in support. It’s one of Haden’s hardest albums to track down. Rare.
• Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs (with Hank Jones, Verve, 1995)
A true gem, this meeting of two icons praising with spirituals, hymns and folk songs is a rewarding spin through music that had largely been forgotten by the fast pace of our culture. Haden and Jones lovingly play the melodies straight from their hearts on piano and bass. In the liner notes, Abbey Lincoln wrote: “Hank and Charlie together are a magical, musical entity… [they] use a brilliant, simple, masterful approach to these forever songs.”
• Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories) (with Pat Metheny, Verve, 1997)
Both the guitarist and bassist shared Missouri lineage which prompted them to contribute their originals as well as old-time music from the Midwest and popular tunes. While Metheny’s guitars dominate the proceedings, Haden plays the intimate card with gorgeous lyrical basslines that rudder and drive the songs. A big hit in the jazz world as well as a Grammy winner for best jazz instrumental performance. At the memorial where Metheny fingerpicked three of Haden’s tunes on acoustic guitar, he said, “Even though he was 17 years older than me, Charlie was like a brother in that we understood each other without talking.”
•Jasmine (with Keith Jarrett, ECM, 2010)
In the liner notes to this charged album, Jarrett writes: … “Art is dying in this world, and so is listening … Charlie and I are obsessed with beauty. An ecstatic moment in music is with the lifetime of mastery that goes into it … ” With pockets of high energy mixed with contemplation, this is one of the best duos Haden created with pure and robust spontaneity.
• Charlie Haden Jim Hall (Verve, 2014)
In 2014 the label released Haden’s duets with guitarist Jim Hall—a sublime show that had been recorded in 1990 at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. It was about time, as the release was a posthumous affair, given that Hall had passed away the year before. From the onset, Haden syncs up with the guitarist on an almost rowdy take on Monk’s “Bemsha Swing.” It’s a travesty this tasty live recording, mostly of standards but with originals, had to wait nearly 25 years to emerge after it was recorded in Montreal. The two circle each other, listen to each other and open up wide spaces for lengthy improvisation on ballads and swingers. Pat Metheny commented in the liners: “This is a recording for the ages.”
• Tokyo Adagio (with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Impulse!, 2015)
After meeting and hearing the young Cuban pianist in Havana, Haden went to bat to get him a recording deal in the U.S. in the midst of the embargo, proving what a talent he was to Bruce Lundvall who pulled some sleight of hand with the Cuban government and signed him to Blue Note Canada. Rubalcaba always touched base with Haden, but this 2005 meeting in Tokyo at the Blue Note Jazz club has the markings of journey music with great respect. Some of the tunes are uptempo, some soft spoken, but all with the generosity and romanticism of improvisation.
Other highlight duo recordings:
• As Long As There’s Music (with pianist Hampton Hawes, Polygram, 1976)
• Time Remembers One Time Once (with pianist Denny Zeitlin, ECM, 1981)
• Dialogues (with guitarist Carlos Paredes, Antilles, 1990)
• Night and the City (with pianist Kenny Barron, Verve, 1997)
• None But the Lonely Heart (with pianist Chris Anderson, Naim, 1998)
• In Montreal (with pianist/guitarist Egberto Gismonti, ECM, 2001)
• Nightfall (with pianist John Taylor, Naim, 2004)
• Heartplay (with guitarist Antonio Forcione, Naim, 2006)