Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden – Last Dance – ECM 

by | Oct 2, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden – Last Dance – ECM Records (2014) ECM 2399 3782250 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 66:46 ****1/2:

(Keith Jarrett – piano; Charlie Haden – double bass)

Charlie Haden was renowned for exploring melodic improvisational responses to free-form jazz improvisation, including the iconic Ornette Coleman Quartet.. Like Jimmy Blanton and Charles Mingus, he was pivotal in transforming the double bass from a background instrument to “front” prominence. In the late 60’s he was part of a trio, quartet and quintet with pianist Keith Jarrett. In the 1980’s Haden formed his own group Quartet West. Haden excelled in a variety of formats, especially in duets with Pat Metheny, Jim Hall and Hank Jones. It was not surprising that Haden teamed up with pianist Keith Jarrett on the ECM release Jasmine. recorded during a documentary about Haden, The duo brought their individual spontaneity and intuition into focus revisiting various jazz and Broadway standards. The album garnered critical acclaim and four years later, Jarrett and Haden would reunite again. This would be the last recording by Haden who suffered from the lingering effects of post-polio syndrome.

Last Dance revives the structure of its predecessor, drawing on the Great America Songbook. Recorded at Jarrett’s home studio in New Jersey, nine tracks (including two alternative takes from the Jasmine sessions) define the innate musical chemistry of these jazz legends. Opening Side 1 is the Arthur Johnston/Sam Coslow 1934 tune, “My Old Flame”. Originally sung by actress Mae West in the film Belle Of The Nineties, it became strongly associated with Billie Holiday and instrumentally with Charlie Parker. As the arrangement begins, it is apparent that the  chemistry between these two is palpable. The harmonious interaction is highlighted by Jarrett’s expressive notation. It seems like a ballad, but there is a gentler swing uptick at times. Haden delivers a counterpoint with rhythm. He solos dramatically like a saxophonist or trumpeter. Jarrett resumes the lead combining subtle melancholy with breezy articulation. The shifting between piano and double bass is deft and flows with ease. Next up is the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin Broadway piece, “My Ship”. This was first performed by none other than Gertrude Lawrence as Liza Elliott in the 1941 musical, Lady In The Dark. Jarrett and Haden capture the contrasting imagery of moodiness and joy that inhabits Weill’s compositions. Keith’s adroit lyricism envelops the melody. Haden adds his sophisticated nuances that elevates this romantic meditation. Jarrett’s playing is elegant, alternating between simplicity and complexity with a hypnotic essence.

Portrait of Charlie Haden

Charlie Haden

Vinyl aficionados will appreciate the significance of album sequencing, as Side 2 shifts to classic jazz. Thelonious Monk’s phenomenal “‘Round Midnight” is the most frequently recorded jazz composition. Haden and Jarrett intermingle nimble phrasing and timing to create another great cover of this American landmark. Jarrett’s medium tempo runs are rhythmic and grandiose. There is an ethereal transition to Haden’s relaxed, moving solo. The duo shares an uncanny counter timing. Jarrett returns to anchor the continuity, always searching the melody for a fresh path. At nine-and-a -half minutes the jam is never tedious. Keeping the elevated pedigree, they storm through Bud Powell’s “Dance Of The Infidels”. The exuberant hard-charging arrangement has Jarrett percolating and Haden racing alongside. Simply put, it is 4:21 worth of hot licks. Side 3 slides back into popular mode with the eternally aspirational “It Might As Well Be Spring”. From the lone Rodgers and Hammerstein film score, State Fair, the song  was introduced by a lip-synched Jeanne Crain (dubbed by Louann Hogan) that would win the Best Song Oscar. But Keith and Charlie claim this “ultimate standard” as their own. In a performance that warrants the longest cut time on the album, the duo injects the requisite heartfelt ambience that surrounds the listener with a wistful, jazzy resonance. Jarrett’s finger-snapping cool licks are supplemented by Haden who immerses himself as a second left hand. The double bass solo is compelling and tenderly invokes the melody’s context. Another pop ditty, “Something Happens To Me” (popularized by Nat King Cole) glows with a jaunty groove, atmospheric transition and understated cadence upticks.

Portrait Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett

Side 4 offers the only trio of songs. “Where Can i Go Without You” was a pop hit for Peggy Lee but there have been several other jazz reincarnations, most notably with Nina Simone This version is an alternative take (which in jazz parlance is anything but an outtake). Jarrett’s piano riffs are soulful and bluesy, but there is sprightly innocence. Haden’s solo features skilled punctuation and Jarrett concludes with gospel flourishes. Jazz players have a great affinity for Cole Porter. “Everytime We Say Goodbye” has been graced by Chet Baker, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Diana Krall and Oscar Peterson, among many. The airy, laid-back arrangement is testament to the technical acumen and ability to play cohesively. It is a jazz interpretation of a back porch jam. The finale is a film-noirish adaptation of Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye” There are classical undertones and haunting fluency. Haden has another memorable solo.

Last Dance is a noteworthy finale to Chalie Haden’s career. He and Keith Jarrett are extraordinary, regardless of age. Their musical instincts and accessibility are dynamic. Despite being recorded in a “home” studio the overall sound mix is excellent. Every jazz lover should add this vinyl to their library.

Side 1: My Old Flame; My Ship
Side 2: ‘Round Midnight; Dance Of The Infidels
Side 3: It Might As Well Be Spring; Everything Happens To Me
Side 4: Where Can I Go Without You; Every Time We Say Goodbye; Goodbye

—Robbie Gerson




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