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Clip: Charlie Haden gets the political band Liberation Music Orchestra back together

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  • Carl Z.
    Jazz Liberation Charlie Haden gets the political band Liberation Music Orchestra back together Derk Richardson,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2005
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      <http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/derk/>

      Jazz Liberation
      Charlie Haden gets the political band Liberation Music Orchestra back together

      Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate

      Thursday, December 1, 2005

      When Charlie Haden was invited to participate on a panel about jazz
      and politics at next month's annual IAJE (International Association of
      Jazz Educators) convention in New York City, the organizer told him:
      "You've got to be on it. Who else is there?"

      Haden may not be the first or only jazz musician to explicitly infuse
      his music with a political point of view, but he has certainly been
      one of the most consistent. Each time the legendary bassist's
      sensitivity to injustice in the world reaches the boiling or breaking
      point, he bears witness by rallying and recording his Liberation Music
      Orchestra, which marches into the Bay Area for a six-night run, Dec.
      6-11, at Yoshi's in Oakland.

      Earlier this year, Haden issued Not in Our Name, the fourth Liberation
      Music Orchestra studio album. Its centerpiece is a 17-minute "America
      the Beautiful" medley that takes the classic patriotic anthem from a
      straightforward statement into an arrangement that pays homage to the
      1968 jazz reworking by the late Gary McFarland and then to James
      Weldon Johnson's African American national anthem "Lift Every Voice
      and Sing" and Ornette Coleman's "Skies of America," before returning
      to the original theme, which the listener must now hear in a new
      light.

      Haden and his longtime LMO arranger-conductor Carla Bley surround
      "America the Beautiful" with other pieces that support and expand the
      suite's sentiments -- the title track (a Haden original), "This Is Not
      America" (which David Bowie sang in the film "The Falcon and the
      Snowman"), Bley's "Blue Anthem," "Amazing Grace," "Goin' Home" (from
      Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony"), guitarist Bill Frisell's
      "Throughout" and "Adagio" from Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."

      "The reason you have to do something like this is so sad," Haden said
      in a phone call from his home in the hills north of Los Angeles last
      week, "and it's getting more and more sad every day." It was Haden's
      despondency over his country's increasingly brutal incursions into
      Vietnam and Southeast Asia under the Nixon administration in 1969 that
      inspired him to record Liberation Music Orchestra, an album that
      musically connected the dots between the Spanish Civil War, the
      assassination of Che Guevara and the police riot at the 1968
      Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

      "I had some beautiful old folk songs from the Spanish Civil War that
      I'd been holding for a long time," Haden recalled. "This music was so
      beautiful, and I just imagined great jazz improvisers being inspired
      by this music and playing it."

      For Haden, classification by musical genre was irrelevant. Up to that
      point, he was best known as a member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet,
      which had set the jazz world on its ear with collective "harmolodic"
      improvisations on such recordings as The Shape of Jazz to Come and
      Change of the Century. He had also played with John Coltrane, Archie
      Shepp, Alice Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and others, and had already
      adopted the philosophy that still informs his ability to seamlessly
      integrate jazz, folk, gospel and classical idioms.

      "I always look at 'jazz' improvisers as just improvisers," he
      explained. "To look at it away from the category of jazz is something
      my mind has always done, because year by year the world of jazz keeps
      limiting itself and making itself smaller, and what I want to do is
      expand it."

      Haden's discography as a leader is relatively modest by modern
      recording standards, but it is marvelously varied. It includes duets
      with Coleman, Shepp, Don Cherry, Hampton Hawes, Paul Motian, Carlos
      Paredes, Egberto Gismonti and Pat Metheny; trios with pianists Gonzalo
      Rubalcaba, Geri Allen, Paul Bley and Brad Mehldau; sumptuous theme
      albums (some inspired by film noir) with his Quartet West; and a
      recent Grammy-winning collection of gorgeously arranged Mexican
      ballads, Land of the Sun. And every once in a while Haden feels
      compelled to add another Liberation Music Orchestra album to the
      catalog.

      In 1982 it was The Ballad of the Fallen, with movement songs from El
      Salvador, Portugal and Chile, as well as Spain. "Yeah, that was under
      Reagan," Haden said. "Then I felt like I had to make another one
      [1991's Dream Keeper] under Bush's father. Before the election of
      2004, I called Carla and said 'I want to do this again.' She said, 'I
      understand.' I went to Europe with the orchestra, we toured summer
      festivals over there and we recorded in Rome."

      Haden had first come across the slogan "Not in Our Name" on banners
      hanging from apartment buildings in Spain and Italy when he was
      touring there with guitarist Pat Metheny in 2003. "The sentiment over
      there -- the feeling of compassion -- is much stronger because they've
      been against what Bush is doing all along."

      Then, on the 2004 LMO tour, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon came down to
      a hotel lobby one morning and told Haden he'd had a dream that the
      bassist should call his then untitled new composition "Not in Our
      Name." It stuck for the CD title as well.

      Although there is highly charged music with political themes coming
      from such Asian American jazz composers as Jon Jang, Fred Ho and
      Anthony Brown, and trumpeter Dave Douglas has used some of his
      recordings as platforms to express his views, Haden pointed to a
      paucity of jazz "recordings about the direction the country's going
      in."

      But, he added, "I really believe that if you would go up to most
      musicians who have made an impact on this art form and start talking
      about what's going on, I think they would come across feeling the same
      way. The people that I chose to play on the recording and do the
      touring are all very politically conscious -- they care about life and
      equality and justice."

      That might have been the case in the 1960s, too, especially among
      African American jazz musicians. Charles Mingus was famous for his
      provocative titles during the era of the Civil Rights movement, and
      1960 saw the recording of the classic We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom
      Now Suite. Nonetheless, Haden met some resistance to the release of
      Liberation Music Orchestra. In the time of the National Liberation
      Front in Vietnam, "liberation" was a hot-button term.

      "Bob Thiele called me right before the album was supposed to be
      released," Haden remembered, "and he said, 'Charlie, I'm having
      problems with the people at ABC Impulse! They don't want to release
      this because it's too political. One problem is having "Liberation" in
      the title.' So I had to go up to ABC Impulse! and talk to Jay Lasker,
      who at that time was the head of the whole shebang. I sat in his
      office and told him he would miss out on good sales if he didn't
      release this record. I said, 'The word "liberation" is so hip that a
      rock group is going to steal it and make a million dollars.'"

      Although Liberation Music Orchestra didn't sell like a rock record, it
      did, like every LMO recording since, feature a remarkable roster of
      jazz greats of the day. LMO participants have included saxophonists
      Gato Barbieri, Jim Pepper, Joe Lovano and Branford Marsalis,
      trumpeters Don Cherry, Michael Mantler and Tom Harrell, and tuba
      masters Howard Johnson and Joe Daley. Current all-stars include
      saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Tony Malaby, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez
      and drummer Matt Wilson. French horn player Sharon Freeman, drummer
      Paul Motian and the late saxophonist Dewey Redman played on three of
      the four studio albums. But, along with Haden, only Carla Bley appears
      on all.

      "I rely on our friendship and our values over all the years we've
      known each other, since 1957," Haden said of Oakland native Bley. "I
      know the way she hears music and I know that she looks at my orchestra
      as completely different from her projects, and she writes for it
      differently. She has from the beginning. I feel very close to the way
      she hears and thinks about music.

      "For instance, I knew about Gary McFarland's record [1968's America
      the Beautiful], but she had it in her mind so strongly that she called
      me and said, 'I'm gonna use part of the feeling of a Gary McFarland
      arrangement on "America the Beautiful." This is perfect for what we're
      doing.'

      "I really do look for Carla's vision because I know that she is
      looking at the same stuff I am. She told me one night, 'When I write
      down bass notes, I know that you're going to change them sometimes,
      and whatever you change them to is going to be great, but I write down
      what I think you're going to play.'"

      Whatever notes come out, Haden plays the way he talks -- from the
      heart. An Iowa native who grew up singing in a family country band, he
      sired his own brood of artistic children, including son Josh (of the
      band Spain) and triplet daughters Petra, Rachel and Tanya. And one
      gets the feeling that despite the sometimes-hard jazz life he has led,
      the big, generous sound of his bass embodies humanitarian impulses
      that are rooted in authentic family values and faith in the
      fundamental decency of the American people. And that he means it when
      he says he hopes he never has to record another Liberation Music
      Orchestra album.

      "I never thought I would ever say that, because of the excitement of
      playing with all these great musicians," he confided, "but I'm hoping
      that some people's eyes are coming open a little bit with the blatancy
      of what's going on, and that the eye-opening will last until the
      presidential election in 2008."

      Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra performs Tues.-Sun., Dec.
      6-11, at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Showtimes 8 & 10 pm.,
      Sun. 2 & 8 pm. Tickets $5-$28. For details, call (510) 238-9200.
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