Charlie Haden is the preeminent jazz bassist playing today.
Haden performs four duets, one each with Free Jazz progenitors Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, and one each with pianist Hampton Hawes and sax-player Archie Shepp. The duet with Cherry is surprisingly accessible; not really free jazz yet still fresh and experimental. The song, "Out of Focus" opens slowly, with Cherry's chant-like flute over a sonorous bass riff. Cherry then breaks out into a swifter pace, but with the same sad/dreamy tone. His rapid-fire bursts of sound sometimes made melody out of rhythmic variations, and he has a wonderful Gillespie-like tone. Haden has a sometimes dry, sometimes full sound, and neither player overpowers the other.
On "Shepp's Way," Haden has a thicker (but never ponderous) sound and his chordings and bent notes are very effective. Shepp's playing combines modernism and traces of bop. This is a thoughtful mostly non-melodic piece, and probably the most "abstract" one on the album, but it's never too intense or oblique. Listeners who enjoy the beauty of sound and invention will enjoy it.
Hawes, to whom Haden dedicates the album, is delicious. He plays from a blues base on "Turnaround," a melodic cut full of easy-going swing. It's thoroughly enjoyable and, as with all cuts, recorded superbly. Haden and Hawes complement each other so well that it often sounds like more than two instruments are playing.
Haden complements each player beautifully. He varies his sound effectively and with great empathy for the partner. He's a different sort of bassist then say, Mingus, who has a greater attack, intensity, and big sound. However, Haden is excellent in his own way, and the playing by Hawes, Shepp, and Cherry is outstanding. Still, the listener should like bass playing and bass solos; there are several extended (but beautiful and interesting) solos by Haden.
Review by M. Allen Greenbaum