Missouri state of mind

Jazz legends Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden have journeyed into the mid-West. Phil Johnson listens in

It was like a re-make of some ancient H.M. Bateman cartoon about a scandalous drawing-room faux-pas.The launch of Beyond the Missouri Sky, the long-awaited collaboration between two famous American jazz musicians - bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Pat Metheny was a solemn affair.The technician had pressed play and the album had boomed sonorously from the hugely impressive stereo system. Then silence fell. The audience said nothing and the duo wriggled in their seats. Until, at last, I hesitantly made an enquiry. They weren't worried, were they, I said, that the album was a bit like muzak. It was that exquisite Bateman-esque moment of social embarrassment: "The Man Who Mentioned Muzak." Jaws dropped, heads turned, Charlie looked infinitely pained. Then he spoke: "I've never, ever, felt in danger of making muzak." And that was that. But, of course, Beyond the Missouri Sky is a bit like muzak. A duet for bass and guitar, with a few synthesised orchestral string-choruses, the music is so limpidly beautiful, so soft and compliant, that it could quite happily serve as sound sculptures to be heard in a lift or a pizza restaurant. There's the tune that sounds like the theme from The Deerhunter, the one that reminds you of the theme from Chariots of Fire, and there really is the theme from Cinema Paradiso. It's a great album too, perhaps the ultimate Sunday morning slobbing-around soundtrack, it's just that there's more sense of conflict and tension in an episode of Home and Away.

It wasn't always thus, and Haden's present peace of mind, as expressed in the lyrical beauty of the album, has been a hard-won thing. In 1957, he left his home in Forsyth, Missouri, to attend music college in Los Angeles. After becoming the bassist in the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet, helping to create free jazz, he went through a long bout of heroin addiction, which, unlike many of his peers such as Art Pepper and Chet Baker, he survived. He met Metheny, who grew up a hundred miles away, in Lee's Summit, Missouri, in 1973, at an Ornette Coleman concert. The guitarist, who is 17 years younger than Haden, became a star of fusion in the Seventies, and he remains one of the most commercially successful of all jazz musicians, mixing the guitar heroics of his own bands with occasional excursions into the experimental. When Haden married his present wife, Ruth Cameron, in 1989, Metheny was best man.

They had planned to make a record together for years and when the chance came, Beyond the Missouri Sky was recorded in a few days, on a low budget like most jazz albums. "It's about the country," Haden says when we meet again later. "It's about the mid-West, the heartland.'' Metheny, who has a striking frizzed-out hairstyle, a kind of jazz version of a Michael Bolton, concurred: "Missouri was about a time in my life when there was space to think about music." It's also, says Charlie, about wood. Come again? "I really play the wood of the instrument," he says. "When they made basses in the old days, they really had to find the best wood, and I think of the wood and the varnish as a musical sound, as an extension of the instrument's vibrations. "

The warmth of the album's sound is an effect that Haden, Metheny and their engineer strove to achieve (the album was recorded using a new, completely digital, process) in an attempt to recapture the feeling the two had when they played together in Haden's living room one New Year's Eve. When you listen to the music - and true muzak, of course, doesn't need to be listened to - it's like gathering around the campfire as Metheny's Huck Finn, and Haden's Mark Twain hunker down to tell their tales. Sure, they've all got happy endings, and there's a touch of Walt Disney in there somewhere, but it really is a beautiful record. Just don't mention muzak, right? n

'Beyond the Missouri Sky' is released on Verve

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?