A veteran sideman with Ornette Coleman, Art Pepper and Carla Bley, the double bassist Charlie Haden is also renowned as leader of his own Liberation Orchestra, whose purpose lives up to its name and in the service of which he was once detained by Portugal's secret police. His Quartet West, over for the opening weekend of the London Jazz Festival, follow a less revolutionary path, one that brings to mind his association with Pepper and the West Coast "cool" sound of the Fifties.
Although the 70-year-old Haden's group started with the twisting lines of a Charlie Parker number, from the moment Rodney Green hit the kit a different tone was set. It was fast, sure-footed swing, but Green's light tom-work and super-airy cymbals conjured up the image not of a hard-blowing club session but of sun rays creeping through the blinds and illuminating the dust settling in a jazz room still alive from the performances of the night before.
From the rhythm section of Green, Alan Broadbent on piano and Haden, there was a powerful restraint. Nothing was missing. It was just like listening to a trio playing forcefully but with the sound turned down, a technique only available to those with real mastery.
There was less restraint from Ernie Watts, who produced outstanding tenor-sax solos, in one playing flurries of arpeggios as fast as if he was strumming a guitar. Broadbent showed great delicacy of touch and a fondness for melodrama – with a touch of sentiment – in an introduction to Haden's "Hello My Lovely".
He also provided a tour-de-force unaccompanied extended cadenza in the evening's highlight, Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" (which, Haden reminded us, he'd recorded with Coleman in 1957). Broadbent's solo started in a semi-classical vein and then took us on a journey through the different rooms of a haunted house of jazz, swing, stride, sinister-sounding Twenties piano rolls and even a few bars of Grieg all seeming to echo past us on the way.
My only caveat would be Haden's solos. A double bass solo can be like a cucumber – rather bland on its own, good in some ill-defined way, but more of a duty than a pleasure unless accompanied by the right condiments. Haden's were slow, thoughtful and, I'm afraid, a bit boring. Not that it mattered, though, when the meal the quartet as a whole delivered was exquisite.Reuse content