Charlie Haden and Carla Bley’s Liberation Music

Lately I have been writing a series of posts about jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell. In the metaphor of that series, I am taking a Trip through Harrell’s recordings (“Harrell-land”), and on this Trip I have occasionally taken some unplanned excursions. One particularly enjoyable one has been looking back at the recorded music of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

Charlie Haden and Carla Bley, c. 2005. (Which one do you think is the sly one?)

For reference, below are the albums, each roughly a decade apart. The 1969, 1983, 1990, and 2005 albums are studio sessions, each a protest against specific political and social injustices. The core material of the 1969 and 1983 albums consists of folk cum protest songs from the Spanish Civil War and from various peasant and workers’ struggles in Latin America. These are all adapted by Carla Bley for Haden’s large ensemble that he called the Liberation Music Orchestra. Mixed in among the folk songs are original compositions by Haden and Bley and by a handful of others. The 1990 album retains a Spanish theme, but the center of gravity shifts to Black liberation. The 2005 album was provoked by the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq. The 2016 album (with two tracks recorded in 2011) is a collaborative tribute to Haden (ob. 2014) by his wife Ruth Cameron Haden and Carla Bley; its cause is the environment. The 1989 and 1993 albums are live performances featuring previously recorded material.

Vietnam

In the final year of the tumultuous decade of the 60s, on April 27, 28, and 29, 1969, to be specific, at Judson Hall in the CAMI building on 165 W. 57th Street in New York City, across from Carnegie Hall, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, and eleven other musicians recorded an unusual concoction of music and politics. They called the assemblage and the resulting album Liberation Music Orchestra. Haden had had the idea several years earlier when listening to music he had collected from the Spanish Civil War. He had known Carla Bley since 1957. He called her to ask if she would be interested in doing the arrangements. She said yes. A brilliant and long-running collaboration began.

The music was avant-garde, free-jazzy, another cultural manifestation of the 60s. Haden of course had come to fame a decade earlier playing with Ornette Coleman, and there was affinity and overlap with the avant-garde jazz of Carla Bley’s and her then husband Michael Mantler’s Jazz Composer’s Orchestra — Mantler’s album The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra was made in 1968, and Bley and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra were recording Bley’s Escalator over the Hill between 1968 and 1971.

But while the inspiration came from the Spanish Civil War, the big thing in the air was Vietnam.

When Haden and Bley and crew went into Judson Hall that week of April 1969, I was quite possibly sitting in my seventeenth-century poetry class downtown at the Washington Square campus of New York University, fixated on something, but it wasn’t John Donne. I was too shy to introduce myself to that girl Barbara in the front row, but one thing led to another and we were married in January 1970.

Vietnam certainly had an impact on my life. In the fall of 1967, I had dropped out of what would have been my third year at the University of Illinois. I remained in Champaign-Urbana working at a record store but eventually lost my student deferment. I filed as a conscientious objector, an absurd and totally unfounded claim albeit supported by my hometown minister, but by the time of my hearing before the draft board, I had been accepted at New York University for the Fall 1968 term and so regained my 2-S. Just days after the bloody 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago I drove my things from Champaign-Urbana up to my parents’ home in the Chicago suburbs before flying off to the Big Apple. At home nerves were still raw and conversations heated over what had just happened in the Convention hall and in the city’s streets.

Anyway, by the time of my marriage I had in turn dropped out of NYU (don’t ask), and so sure enough I was eventually called up for my physical, which, as was predictable all along, I failed because of my eyesight. That drama in my life was forever over.

I can’t say I had a strong ideological opposition to the war. I remember being more viscerally shocked by Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia. There is nothing subtle about tanks. In foreign affairs, I was then and now more inclined to Thucydidean Realpolitik than to abstract idealism. Psychologically and most importantly, however, the war simply had no reality for me. It was “over there” somewhere, whereas almost all my friends were over here in college and I was totally absorbed in my intellectual awakening. This of course was in some measure the fault of the government, because, as we came to know, as our involvement continued to grow, they lied to us, over and over again. Anyway, the “system” would have been just fine with me staying in college and letting the poor and working-class kids die. And that did bother me.

I am also ambivalent about the explicit mixture of art and politics. Normally I prefer the art to speak for itself. Above all, in all things I am wary of herd mentality. But there is nothing subtle about American racism, and I happen to have taken this unplanned excursion into the LMO at a time when I’ve had it up to here with the never-say-die racist and reactionary elements in my country — and I was writing this before January 6 (2021). So as it happens Haden and Bley’s liberation music has gotten my blood boiling. ¡No pasarán!

Liberation Music Orchestra

Inspired by
Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936

Side A (the album of course was originally vinyl) ends with Carla Bley’s two-minute, seven-second wryly titled The Ending To The First Side. So much for any fear I might have had that the album was going to be unsparingly messagey!

A fear that might indeed have been engendered by the somber theme, gloomy pace, and conscriptive drum roll of Bley’s one-minute, fifteen-second The Introduction, a premonition however offset by the already evident brilliance of Bley’s arrangements and by the individualistic sounds thirty seconds in of Dewey Redman’s wailing saxophone, Roswell Rudd’s growling trombone, and Mike Mantler’s (or Don Cherry’s?) wah wah trumpet, with the Orchestra then seamlessly rolling over to the instantly more spirited and rousing Hans Eisler-Bertolt Brecht number Song of the United Front (Einheitsfrontlied — “Es kann die Befreiung der Arbeiter nur / das Werk der Arbeiter sein” — sung here by Ernst Busch). In fact Brecht’s trademark ability to communicate a political message entertainingly is a good way to think of the music of the LMO. (If I were a Humanities professor, I might assign this paper: Compare Picasso (Guernica), Brecht, Charlie Chaplin (The Great Dictator), and the LMO.) Song of the United Front also introduces us to Perry Robinson’s clarinet.

What follows, the core of the album, is a twenty-one-minute suite of three anthems from the Spanish Civil War. The historical events were fresher in the world’s memory in 1969, but today at least anyone can find these songs in the cloud. In fact a playlist of these musically and lyrically simple folk tunes makes a good warmup to the more sophisticated free-jazz versions of the LMO.

  1. The Spanish Civil War began as a coup d’etat by Spanish generals, including General Francisco Franco, on July 17, 1936, an eventually successful attempt to overthrow the left-leaning Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic. The elite military corps called the Quinto Regimiento (de milicias populares) became one of the most famous units remaining loyal to the Republic. Its anthem was El quinto regimiento: “El 18 de julio / En el patio de un convento (the Church of San Francisco de Sales in Madrid) / El partido comunista / Fundó el Quinto Regimiento.” (Sung here by Pi De La Serra & Carme Canela.) Some versions substitute “El pueblo madrileño” (the people of Madrid) for “El partido comunista.”

    Sam Brown’s extended guitar intro to the LMO version takes us right to Spain. The oom-pah-pah theme in fact makes me feel like I am at a bullfight. Two minutes in there commences a slow dissolve into free jazz, more formally announced by Don Cherry’s high trumpet notes riding over Haden’s pulsating bass. Cherry solos (over the free-playing Orchestra), then Brown, while Paul Motian (drums) and Haden maintain a taut feel and the brass utter an occasional peep. And then … a Mingus-sounding Haden drops a definitive half-note interval and develops this into a pattern that begins a brilliant solo, accompanied only by Motian’s tingling chimes. Motian drops out (mostly), and the (mostly) unaccompanied bass continues until the brass enter with the theme to
  2. Los Cuatro Generales. This was a popular old Spanish song, Los Cuatro Muleros (The Four Mule Drivers), that took on new words in the form of a hymn to the Madrileños (citizens of Madrid) who in November 1936 bravely withstood, for a while, the Fascists’ siege of their city and in so doing foiled the coup and turned it into a civil war: “Madrid, qué bien resistes, / mamita mía, los bombardeos, / los bombardeos. / De las bombas se ríen, / mamita mía, los madrileños, / los madrileños“. The four generals are usually identified as Francisco Franco, Queipo de Llano, José Sanjurjo and Emilio Mola. One of the couplets confidently foretells that these four will be hanged on Christmas Eve, which unfortunately didn’t happen. It is sung here (in English and in Spanish) by Paul Robeson, who actively participated in the war (on the Republican side, of course).

    Roswell Rudd solos on Los Cuatro Generales, again over the free-playing Orchestra. A briefly overdubbed female voice from Frédéric Rossif’s French documentary film about the War, Mourir à Madrid, a slight pause, and Gato Barbieri’s saxophone introduces
  3. Viva La Quince Brigada (the correct title, not to be confused with a later variation by Irish folk singer Christy Moore, which he called Viva La Quinta Brigada). This was one of two anthems of the XV International Brigade, a mostly English-speaking tactical unit the largest part of which was the Lincoln Brigade. Again the wartime had put new lyrics to an old folk song. The version made famous in the English-speaking world by a 1943 recording by Pete Seeger and the Almanac singers was said to have been written by Bart van der Schelling, a member of the Lincoln Brigade. The XV International Brigade fought at, among other places, the battles of Jarama and the Ebro crossing, which battles figure into some of the song’s lyrics. (The Brigade’s other song was Jarama Valley, which by the way uses the tune of Red River Valley.) You get the idea that the song has a complicated history. It is also known as ¡Ay Carmela!, which in turn has two variants, El Paso del Ebro and Viva la XV Brigada.

    Gato Barbieri plays over Bley’s rhapsodic piano and Haden’s bowed bass and Motian’s scattershots. Honking/screaming and free jazz, more overdubbed voices from Mourir à Madrid, and the suite circles back to the theme of El Quinto Regimiento (with Howard Johnson’s tuba prominent). The theme to The Introduction, reprised as The Ending to the First Side, bookends Side A.

(Gato Barbieri was a force of nature. I love the scene in Fernando Trueba’s Latin Jazz documentary Calle 54 in which Gato is in front of his hotel in NYC inspecting the carriages queued up for the tourists, and he asks one of the horses how he’s doing {“¿Cabecito, cómo está, bien?”}! In the documentary Gato then takes us on an exotic trip, first to Macchu Picchu, then Bolivia.)

Side B (the track sequencing on the LP is intentional). There is nothing subtle about Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco dropping bombs on Spanish civilians. Not so, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to Latin America. I admire those who risked and sometimes lost their lives in armed struggle against the caudillos and military juntas, whom of course I despise (to take a contemporary example, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro makes me sick). And I groan at the stupidity of so many of the American government’s actions in the name of anti-communism. ¡Que viva por eso la lucha popular! But I have equal contempt for the totalitarian regime that Castro in turn imposed on Cuba. Ask Paquito D’Rivera. I don’t have to like either side, and about the romanticized, Hollywood-chic version of Ché Guevara I smell the herd mentality.

(1) Ended the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and decades of oppression. (2) “Built [Castro] a repressive system that punished virtually all forms of dissent …. During Castro’s rule, thousands of Cubans were incarcerated in abysmal prisons, thousands more were harassed and intimidated, and entire generations were denied basic political freedoms.” Human Rights Watch, 2016.

But at this point, when I listen to the opening notes of Charlie Haden’s awesome, solitary bass on his tribute song to his hero, Song for Ché, who cares? The music is great. Haden is featured on this nine-minute, thirty-second number. Four and a half minutes in there is, as with the El Quinto Regimiento suite, a brief overdubbing (Carlos Puebla singing a stanza from the cult-creation song Hasta Siempre, “Aquí se queda la clara, / la entrañable transparencia, / de tu querida presencia / Comandante Che Guevara“), followed by some coolly exotic instrumentation, and then that force-of-nature Gato Barbieri thing (and some Don Cherry and then the full Orchestra). Back to Haden for a funerary ending. Like I said, the music is great. (Regarding the exotic instrumentation, the album credits have Don Cherry, in addition to cornet, playing Indian wood and bamboo flutes; Bob Northern, in addition to French horn, playing hand wood blocks, crow call, bells, and military whistle; Sam Brown, in addition to guitar, playing Tanganyikan guitar and thumb piano; and Paul Motian, in addition to drums, playing “percussion instruments.”)

Carla Bley’s piano and Haden’s bowed bass introduce War Orphans. Bley plays through it as the Orchestra does an extenuated crescendo. Then, the decrescendo, the other instruments gradually drop out, and we circle back to Bley’s solo piano, which softly and beautifully ends it. According to Haden, Ornette Coleman wrote War Orphans in 1964, and the two had played it together a couple years later. To my knowledge, there is no recording of it until this LMO album. It took me several listenings, but I’ve come to love it. Its solemnity, though, preceded by that of Song for Ché, perhaps requires some relief, and that indeed is what we get next with Bley’s brief The Interlude (Drinking Music) (Haden: “a bouncy little number to quiet the conscience by”).

And in fact the humor continues with Haden’s opening double motif on his composition Circus ’68 ’69, his musical representation of the ’68 Democratic National Convention. I don’t know how humorous Haden intended it to be — he was of course pissed at what transpired there — but the piece is a stitch. As explained by Haden, the Orchestra is divided into two separate bands, one representing the California and New York delegations’ spontaneous eruption into We Shall Overcome after Hubert Humphrey’s Vietnam resolution narrowly passed the floor vote, one the Convention orchestra, as directed by the Convention leaders at the rostrum, trying to drown out We Shall Overcome with You’re a Grand Old Flag and Happy Days Are Here Again.

On that note, the LP ends with the Orchestra’s own arrangement of We Shall Overcome, Roswell Rudd’s trombone playing the melody.

“The music in this album is dedicated to creating a better world; a world without war and killing, without poverty and exploitation; a world where men of all governments realize the vital importance of life and strive to protect rather than to destroy it. We hope to see a new society of enlightenment and wisdom where creative thought becomes the most dominant force in all people’s lives.”

Charlie Haden, liner notes to Liberation Music Orchestra

“God I love those people.”

Barbara (my Pasionaria), after listening with me to Liberation Music Orchestra at lunch

The Ballad of the Fallen

Inspired by
Salvadoran rebels from the FMLN, 1983

Haden had had a decade-long relationship with ECM as both sideman and leader when he and Bley went into the Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg, Germany, in November 1982 with ten other American musicians to record The Ballad of the Fallen. The project continues the work of thirteen years earlier, with more songs from the Spanish Civil War, but now there are also new causes and music from Latin America.

Latin America – A Brief History

“U.S. Not Surprised”

In November 1970, not long after the release of Liberation Music Orchestra, the lifelong socialist and Marxist Salvador Allende, the Popular Unity coalition candidate, won the Chilean presidency. On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military, with backing from the U.S. CIA, ousted Allende. Allende refused to surrender and committed suicide in the presidential palace. The result: the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (I admit my view of this largely comes from Costa-Gavras’s 1982 film Missing, with its brilliant and heartbreaking performances by Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon.)

The movement song El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido, written for the Allende campaign in June 1970 by Sergio Ortega (music) and Quilapayún (lyrics), became the internationally known anthem of both the Chilean resistance and other liberation causes (performed here for example by Inti Illimani).


Banana (Coffee) Capitalism vs Marxism in Nicaragua and El Salvador

Augusto César Sandino
U.S Marines holding Sandino’s flag, Nicaragua, 1932

In the interests of preventing or else controlling a proposed Nicaraguan Canal, the United States occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 (as part of the so-called Banana Wars). Between 1927 and 1933, Augusto César Sandino led a rebellion against the U.S. occupation. Sandino was assassinated in 1934 by the National Guard forces of General Anastasio Somoza García. The Somoza family dynasty went on to rule Nicaragua until they were overthrown by Sandino’s namesake, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, FSLN), in 1979.

Contra commandas (not commandos!), 1987. The Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, despite being opposed by the U.S.-backed Contras.

The Sandinistas returned to power in 2007 under Daniel Ortega. Ortega is still President today (he has “aggressively dismantled all institutional checks on presidential power,” Human Rights Watch, 2018). In 1987 Haden was to write Sandino, the title theme for a documentary about Nicaragua. (The documentary maker’s skill and the documentary’s objectivity have been questioned.) Sandino first appears on records on The Montreal Tapes.


Augustín Farabundo Martí of El Salvador served for a while as Sandino’s personal aide. Martí helped organize El Salvador’s first trade union and he founded the Communist Party of El Salvador.

In El Salvador in 1931, a reform candidate (Arturo Araujo) was elected President. The oligarchy responded with a coup d’etat and installed the dictator Maximiliano Hernandéz Martinéz, the prototype of the Latin American civilian-military junta. In 1932 a planned general uprising was discovered, Martí and other leaders were captured and executed, and a campaign of assassination of political opponents commenced while the U.S. Navy and Marines stood by. An estimated 30,000 peasants and rural workers were slaughtered in what is known in El Salvador as La Matanza (The Massacre).

Fast forwarding, on the heels of the Sandinista victory in neighboring Nicaragua in 1979, a group of reform-minded military officers overthrew the conservative government of El Salvador. They formed a government in which the Salvadoran Communist Party was given the ministry of labor. Things went downhill, however, and the lines were drawn between an increasingly right-wing governing junta and an opposition that coalesced into the Democratic Revolutionary Front, whose political and military vanguard was the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN). Two Uruguayans, a writer named Carlos María Gutiérrez and a singer named José Luis ‘Pepe’ Guerra, had co-written the music and lyrics to Milonga del Fusilado (Ballad of the Fallen), sung here for example by the duo of Pepe Guerra and Braulio López known as Los Olimareños. A copy of this poem was said to be found on the body of a student killed by the Salvadoran National Guard when they open fired on a sit-in at the University of San Salvador.

More Songs from the Spanish Civil War

Franco died in November 1975, and that began a transition in Spain to democracy. That transition is considered to have culminated with the overwhelming victory of Felipe González’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in October 1982, just one month before Haden and Bley and the LMO went into the recording studio in Germany to record The Ballad of the Fallen. For that recording Haden had also selected three more songs from the Spanish Civil War:

  1. Si Me Quieres Escribir (If You Want to Write Me), ya sabes mi paradero: / en el frente de batalla, / primera línea de fuego ….” In Spanish history this song goes back to a war in the 1920s between the colonial power of Spain and the Berber tribes of the Rif mountains in Morocco, and its lyrics were adapted to different battle scenarios. Here it is sung by Rolando Alarcón. I especially like these battle-hardened stanzas: “If you want to eat well / cheap and in a good way / in the front line of battle / there they have an inn; / In the entrance to the inn / there is a Moor Mohammed [Moroccan shock troops recruited by the Nationalists] / who tells you ‘Come in, come in / what do you wish to eat?’; / The first course they give / are fragmentation grenades, / and the second are shrapnel shells / to refresh your memory.”
  2. Els Segadors (The Reapers) is the official anthem of what is now known as the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia . The song’s history goes all the way back to the Guerra dels Segadors, aka Catalan Revolt, of 1640 : “bon cop de falç“!
  3. La Santa Espina (The Sacred Spine) is also Catalan and also has an interesting history. It is a sardana, the Catalan national dance (this will give you the feel), and it was part of a zarzuela (operetta) of the same name written by Ángel Guimerá (lyrics) and Enric Morera (music) for the Barcelonan theater in 1907. In the context of Spanish right-wing militaristic nationalism in the twentieth century, the song’s assertion of Catalan identity and independence (“Som i serem gent catalana / tant si es vol com si no es vol“) was considered seditious and was banned first by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (1923 – 1930) and then again by Franco. In the prototypically authoritarian words of the 1924 decree of the civil governor of Barcelona forbidding its being played or sung: Habiendo llegado a este Gobierno Civil, en forma que no deja lugar a dudas, que determinados elementos han convertido la sardana “La Santa Espina” en himno representativo de odiosas ideas y criminales aspiraciones. Here is a version with both music and lyrics.

Haden himself wrote La Pasionaria. La Pasionaria was the nickname of Dolores Ibárruri, whose speech rallying the Madrileños made famous the slogan ¡No pasarán! (Click the image to watch an interesting history.)


“Carla is a true musical genius. She hears and voices music like no other. She is the only person I have ever trusted or will ever trust to arrange the music for the Liberation Music Orchestra.”

Charlie Haden, liner notes to Dream Keeper, 1990

Carla was hearing the Spanish music, and she wrote Introduction to People “based on traditional Spanish harmonies” (Haden).


In 1971 Haden traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, with Ornette Coleman as part of the Newport Jazz Festival tour of Europe. When introducing his composition Song for Ché, Haden dedicated it to the then ongoing anti-colonialist struggles in the Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique. Haden was arrested by Portuguese authorities the next day at the airport and spent a night in jail. Listen to Haden tell the story in his own words in this must-see interview.

José (Zeca) Afonso wrote and recorded Grândola, Vila Morena ( Grândola, Swarthy Town) in 1971. It was used as a radio-broadcast signal by the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement the morning of April 25, 1974, which started the peaceful Revolução dos Cravos (the Carnation Revolution), aka 25 de Abril, and a successful transition to democracy in Portugal. For once the soldiers were the good guys.

The Music

The LP’s music begins with a solemn statement by the Orchestra’s brass, grounded by Jack Jeffers’s tuba, of the theme of the Catalan anthem Els Segadors. Other musicians in this version of the LMO were Sharon Freeman on French horn, Mick Goodrick on guitar, Jim Pepper on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute, Steve Slagle on alto and soprano saxophones, flute, and clarinet, Gary Valente on trombone and, carried over from the 1969 assemblage, Don Cherry, Michael Mantler, Dewey Redman, and Paul Motian (and Haden and Bley of course). The Orchestra repeats the Els Segadors theme, adding Bley’s glockenspiel to the mix, then Haden’s unaccompanied bass takes over and solos to the end of the track.

Mick Goodrick’s guitar and then Gary Valente’s trombone introduce Milonga del Fusilado (The Ballad of the Fallen), the Uruguayan poem-song found on the body of a dead Salvadoran student. This really is a lovely, moving ballad — the nameless fusilado (No me pregunten quién soy) bequeaths his body and spirit to his comrades, that they may carry on the fight — and it earns the right to be the title track of the album. Goodrick solos and then Valente in the modulation, though Valente is primarily restating the theme.

Though Si Me Quieres Escribir (If You Want to Write Me) is technically a separate track, the Orchestra proceeds to it without pause, beginning with a staccato prelude, then dramatic pause, then an upbeat rendition of this fighting song. After stating the theme, the Orchestra makes way for Don Cherry’s characteristically Don Cherry cornet solo, accompanied only by Haden and Motian in free-rhythm style. They are joined by Bley’s staccato jabs at the keyboard. Cherry drops out with seventeen seconds left on the track, and Bley’s piano becomes the vehicle for another pause-less transition, this time to the march that is Zeca Afonso’s Grândola, Vila Morena. The theme is played initially by the flute and then by the entire Orchestra, with Motian and Bley discordantly underscoring the march rhythm. Valente launches into a great trombone solo as Haden and Motian (spiced by a few cool chords from Bley before she drops out) kick into an almost swing groove.

Bley’s piano joins for the last three seconds and again becomes the pause-less transition vehicle, this time to her Introduction to People, which is an introduction to the theme of El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido. The theme is repeated with different instrumental voicings, which then transition to solos by Mantler and by the alto saxophone. Bley vamps through the entire almost four minutes of Introduction. The feeling is tense, and that feeling continues as Bley’s vamping crosses over to the El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido track and the tuba’s and then the brass’s rendition of the theme’s main motif. But stop. The theme’s dramatic crescendo: Y ahora el pueblo / Que se alza en la lucha / Con voz de gigante / Gritando: ¡adelante! The Orchestra, unida, triumphs. Será mejor / La vida que vendrá.

Milonga del Fusilado, Si Me Quieres Escribir, ‘Grândola, Vila Morena,’ Introduction to People and El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido thus comprise a musical and dramatic unit. Just as Bley and Haden used Bley’s The Interlude (Drinking Music) for dramatic relief on Liberation Music Orchestra, here they do so, but in a different emotional register, with Haden’s Silence: “Silence is at the beginning and end of everything in life. This song was written with the thought that there are infinite possibilities for humankind contained within the brilliance of the universe” (Haden). Mantler’s unaccompanied trumpet plays the theme, a slow progression of half notes. A second voice is added, Freeman’s French horn. A third voice, etc., eventually joined by Haden’s bass and then Bley’s piano, in this symphonic arrangement. Forty seconds of Bley’s unaccompanied piano and then ten seconds of actual silence take us to the end of Silence and the end of Side A. (In November 1987 Haden recorded Silence as the title track to a quartet album he did with Chet Baker.)

If you are listening on vinyl, you have to take the time to flip the record. If you are listening to a CD or streaming, as I am, you more immediately perceive the continuity in instrumentation and mood as Bley’s solo piano introduction to her composition Too Late picks up where Silence left off. No explanation is given of the title; we only know from Haden that Too Late was written as a duet for Carla and himself. The Orchestra does join in in the end, though.

As we recounted, Haden wrote La Pasionaria in dedication to Dolores Ibárruri. This ten-and-a-half-minute piece is the backbone of Side B. As did Sam Brown’s guitar at the beginning of El Quinto Regimiento, Mick Goodrick’s guitar intro takes us right to Spain. One of the tenor saxophonists — I’m guessing Dewey Redman — lays down the theme, in 6/8, backed up by the trombone and orchestra in the repetitions. After these repetitions there is an immediate transition to the free-rhythm of Haden and Motian and free-jazz-style tenor sax solo of, again I’m guessing, Redman. The way Redman constructs the solo echoes for me the later Coltrane. A slow down and pause, and the theme is reprised by the guitar, soprano sax, and clarinet, then tenor. Another slow-down and pause that eases into Haden’s unaccompanied bass solo. At a certain point the Orchestra makes a stealthy reentrance. Pause again, then the theme is reprised and a nice exchange between Haden and the Orchestra takes us out.

The album ends with the Catalan sardana La Santa Espina . It is liberation music, but it surely makes you want to form a circle and dance. Let’s take the occasion once more and give a shoutout to Bley for her brilliant arrangements. When the soprano sax erupts into its solo, and likewise Cherry later, it suddenly becomes more difficult to dance! The piece and the album end having taken us back to the LMO’s free-jazz roots.

Creatively adapted folk-protest songs from the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America; brilliant arrangements and musicianship; wonderful stretches of unaccompanied Charlie Haden bass; carefully curated track sequencing and mood setting; a prick to your conscience — Liberation Music Orchestra and The Ballad of the Fallen sound just as good now as they did in 1969 and 1983.


The Montreal Tapes

July 8, 1989. The final day of an 8-day tribute to Charlie Haden at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Every July in the 80s and 90s my family would vacation in the Adirondacks. It was always a temptation to duck out and go the short distance to Montreal for their great jazz festival. But I never did; we cherished every precious moment of family intimacy and isolated peace on the lake. Nevetheless, Radio-Canada recorded the performances from the eight-day Charlie Haden fête at the 1989 Festival, and from those tapes Verve gradually released a series of six CDs called The Montreal Tapes. They include Haden in small group sessions with the likes of Joe Henderson, Geri Allen, Don Cherry, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Pat Metheny, Egberto Gismonti, and Paul Bley, and drummers Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, and Ed Blackwell. The eleven musicians listed on the album cover above came up from New York and played the tribute’s final evening as the LMO, just a little over twenty years to the day since the original LMO went into Judson Hall in 1969. The Montreal Tapes : Liberation Music Orchestra CD, however, was not released until 1999, and unfortunately it comes with minimal information. Among the musicians the one constant is Paul Motian, who was on every previous LMO recording. Sharon Freeman and Mick Goodrick were on The Ballad of the Fallen. Carla Bley was not there and Geri Allen plays piano (one of The Montreal Tapes CDs from an earlier evening captures Haden with Geri Allen and Paul Motian.)

Mick Goodrick’s guitar intro kicks off the twenty-four-minute La Pasionaria. As befits the occasion, the direction is not as tightly scripted as in the studio. There was probably little or no rehearsal, just some charts and general directions, past familiarity with the material, and a lot of camaraderie and fun by real pros. Joe Lovano’s tenor sax is the lead voice on the theme statement and also the first solo instrument, followed by an outstanding solo from Geri Allen. Lovano and Allen’s solos are accompanied only by Haden and Motian and are in LMO free-jazz mode. The theme is replayed before a long unaccompanied solo by the honoree.

The brass section is prominent in the initial statement of Silence before Haden solos as Geri Allen repeats the half-note motif that comprises the theme. Haden and Allen take it all the way to its lovely and quiet ending.

As reported above, Haden wrote Sandino in 1987 for a documentary on Nicaragua, but this is its debut on records. Haden himself first states the theme, accompanied only by some gentle strumming from Goodrick’s guitar. Sandino features Tom Harrell — does he switch half way from trumpet to flugelhorn? Allen solos and then Goodrick. The Orchestra is present throughout the solos. It goes back to Haden to restate the theme at the end, this time accompanied by the Orchestra.

We Shall Overcome, which had closed out the Liberation Music Orchestra LP, seemed like a good choice of liberation music to close out the one-hour LMO tribute set. Haden’s “one, two, three, four” sets the initial tempo, and the Orchestra plays the familiar theme with appropriate solemnity. But then Haden unexpectedly switches to a walking bass, Ray Anderson comes in with a wah wah on his trombone, and … oh Man! These girls just wanna have fun. The 1917 record Livery Stable Blues, aka Barnyard Blues, by the Original Dixieland Jass Band is thought to be the first recording commercially billed as “jass” (it sold over a million copies — they changed their name to “Jazz”the following year). On the 1917 record trombonist Eddie Edwards provides the barnyard sounds of the number’s title. On the Tapes album Ray Anderson channels the history of that aspect of the jazz trombone and then some. The musicians whoop it up and add some swing. The audience loves it — and count me in. Anderson’s tour de force is followed by an excellent straight-ahead solo by Ernie Watts (Watts was the saxophonist in Charlie Haden’s Quartet West at this time) and solos by Mick Goodrick, Geri Allen (near the end of whose solo the brass adds in a little ‘Baby, Take Me Down to Duke’s Place’), Stanton Davis (trumpet), and of course the honoree. The musicians finish with a collectively improvised rousing restatement of the We Shall Overcome theme.

I just wish I had taken my family up to Montreal that Saturday!


Dream Keeper

Haden and Bley prepared music for a third LMO studio recording in NYC in 1990. According to the CD credits, and judging from the stark album cover art from Apple Music (the original album art depicted above was a painting by Haden’s friend Danny Johnson), the album was produced by DIW, a Japanese record label and subsidiary of Disk Union (its hands-on producer was Haden’s friend and associate Hans Wendl). It had a complicated distribution, however.

Source: Discogs

Somewhat ironically, given the involvement of all those labels, it is difficult to get your hands on the CD today. If you can find it, however, it has informative liner notes from Haden.

Dream Keeper adheres overall to the formula now well established by the 1969 and 1983 albums. It is a collection in part of more liberation music from Spain and Latin America, but this time it tilts more heavily to Black liberation. The centerpiece, the Dream Keeper suite, combines both.

The suite centers around the four-part composition Dream Keeper written by Bley to the individual stanzas of the Langston Hughes poem As I Grew Older, from his collection The Dream Keeper and Other Poems). Those parts are sung on the album by the The Oakland Youth Chorus. The poem (read here by Hughes) is a poignant description of what happens to a young Black man’s dream as he grows old enough to understand the wall that stands between his youthful dream — “bright like a sun” — and any chance of realizing it in America. Between the four parts of Dream Keeper are three Spanish songs: Feliciano Ama, Canto del Pilón, and Himno de Mujeres Libres.

  1. Dream Keeper Part I. “It was a long time ago. / I have almost forgotten my dream. / But it was there then, / In front of me / Bright like a sun – / My dream.” The chorus sings the first stanza of Hughes’s poem, accompanied by the Orchestra (the lead instrumental voice is trumpet or flugelhorn, probably Tom Harrell on the latter). From under the sustained last word “dream” Haden’s strong bass arises to an unaccompanied solo.
  2. Feliciano Ama. José Feliciano Ama was an indigenous peasant (a Pipil) from Izalco in western El Salvador. After his and the other indigenous people’s ancestral lands were confiscated by the coffee plantation owners as part of a supposedly liberal set of reforms, Ama led the Pipil peasants of Izalco at dawn on January 22, 1932, in an uprising against the landlords. Soldiers captured Ama and hanged him in the Izalco town square as part of the same massacre (La Matanza) that took Farabundo Martí. The Western Front of the FMLN is named after Feliciano Ama. The Salvadoran folk song Feliciano Ama tells the story (“Porque te mataron Ama / Feliciano camarada” — the Spanish lyrics and English translation are in the liner notes, and it is sung here). Tom Harrell’s characteristically clarifying trumpet states the theme, leads in the estribillo (chorus), and solos. It was Tom Harrell’s participation in the LMO at this time that brought me to this LMO excursion in the first place.
  3. Dream Keeper Part II. “And then the wall rose / Rose slowly, / Slowly, / Dimming, / Hiding, / The light of my dream. / Rose until it touched the sky – / The wall.” From beneath the sustained last word “wall” arises Juan Lazzaro Mendolas’s wood flute. “io, io.”
  4. Canto del Pilón (Song of the Pestle), I. This is a Venezuelan folk song, underline folk. It is sung by a peasant woman ruminating while she grinds the corn (“Ya me duele la cabeza, io, io / De tanto darle al pilón, io, io / Para engordar un cochino / Y comprarme un camisón, io, io, io” | “My head hurts already, io, io / For working so hard in the mortar, io, io / To fatten a pig, io, io / And buy myself a nightgown, io, io”). The lyrics, which are not provided in the liner notes, are a stitch. Haden learned of this song when his children gave him a recording of it by the Venezuelan singer María Márquez. Ken McIntyre’s alto saxophone leads the Orchestra in the theme and then solos, followed by Don Alias on percussion. In the María Márquez recording Frank Harris’s synthesizer provides the sounds of the barnyard animals, and Bley’s arrangement preserves the effect.
  5. Dream Keeper Part III. “I lie down in the shadow / No longer the light of my dream before me, / Above me. / Only the thick wall. / Only the shadow.” — “io, io.”
  6. Canto del Pilón, II. Again Juan Lazzaro Mendolas’s “io, io” on the wood flute, and then he solos on the panpipes. Arising over the pipes, the trumpet of Earl Gardner (I am guessing) blares the triumphant theme of the Anarchist Women’s Movement.
  7. Himno de Mujeres Libres. “Puño en alto mujeres del mundo [de Iberia in the original] / hacia horizontes preñados de luz / por rutas ardientes, / los pies en la tierra / la frente en lo azul.” The Spanish poet and anarcha-feminist Lucía Sánchez Saornil co-founded the organization Mujeres Libres in 1936, in part to address male chauvinism within the anarchist movement. During the Spanish Civil War the organization had 30,000 members (of course they were outlawed by Franco). She wrote its anthem (sung here by a Basque choir). In Bley’s arrangement, Joe Daley’s tuba, supported by Paul Motian’s snare, plays a virtuoso solo (the tuba has an important part in all of Bley’s LMO arrangements). Pause.
  8. Dream Keeper Part IV. “My hands! / My dark hands! / Break through the wall! / Find my dream! / Help me to shatter this darkness / To smash this night, / To break this shadow / Into a thousand lights of sun / Into a thousand whirling dreams / Of sun!” Dream Keeper Part IV is brief. The chorus doesn’t sing the entire last stanza of the poem (to be honest, I have a hard time hearing the words in Dream Keeper Parts III and IV). Arising from beneath and soaring over the chorus, Tom Harrell’s trumpet concludes the suite.

Thinking about the Dream Keeper suite, I find it an odd mix thematically and musically. Listening to it, I find it works. Barbara and I just watched two videos involving James Baldwin. In his debate with William F. Buckley, Jr., at Cambridge in 1965, Baldwin movingly describes, in a way strikingly similar to Hughes’s poem, what it is like for a Black child of five or six or seven to discover they are not white. Baldwin died in 1987 of stomach cancer (in France, his preferred domicile), and the 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, explores Baldwin’s reminiscences of MLK, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers and his observations about American history, based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. The very day we watched these, the governor of Georgia here in the U.S. signed a bill which does everything its creative legislators could possibly think of to prevent Blacks from voting in the first place and to create intolerably long lines when they do, then makes it illegal to give them food or water while standing in those lines.

Rabo de Nube (Tail of the Tornado) is an art song by Cuba’s literary folk singer and writer Silvio Rodríguez (recorded in 1980 here by Rodríguez, with Yanela Lojos playing the harp and singing). Its Spanish lyrics and English translation are in the liner notes. The arrangement, which begins with an intro by Mick Goodrick’s guitar, is by Karen Mantler, Carla Bley and Michael Mantler’s daughter. It has solos by Joe Lovano, then Dewey Redman, then the two tenor saxophones together. (Years later tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd has done some beautiful versions of this song.)

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, according to anthropologist David Coplan, “has come to symbolize more than any other piece of expressive culture the struggle for African unity and liberation in South Africa” (as cited in Wikipedia). According to Haden’s liner notes, the Orchestra had been playing this at least since 1985 (Nelson Mandela was released from prison just two months before Dream Keeper was recorded). On this recording the Orchestra plays and repeats the theme, there is a pause, and then, one-minute, forty-four seconds in, Ken McIntyre’s and Dewey Redman’s solos, punctuated by Amina Claudine Myers’s chords on the piano (Carla Bley only functions as the conductor on this recording), remind us that the LMO is a JAZZ orchestra! Borrowing a technique from the previous LMO albums, Haden/Bley dub in under Redman’s solo a South African choir singing the A.N.C. anthem.

Sandino has the same arrangement we heard on The Montreal Tapes, Haden laying down the theme accompanied only by Goodrick’s guitar, then Harrell taking over. Harrell kind of owns the piece by now, but there are also solos by Sharon Freeman on French horn and by Goodrick. Haden has the closing honors.

Haden composed Spiritual in the mid-80s as a reflection on MLK, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. It is a fitting bookend to Dream Keeper. Amina Claudine Myers’s intro takes us right to church. Trombonist Ray Anderson states the theme and then solos, followed by Branford Marsalis, Haden, and Myers. Anderson lifts his ‘bone heavenward and provides the penultimate, but if you are not standing and shouting Hallelujah by now, Amina Claudine Myers takes care of that.


Unofficial

“Equinox Music,” which you won’t find anywhere on the web, released this album in 2019. It is a tape of a March 14, 1993, LMO live performance at the Somerville Theatre in Massachusetts, broadcast at the time by WGBH Boston. The CD, which you can get from European sellers, has the veneer of a professional looking production, including, for example, decent liner notes by “M. Wildhack” — but of course you won’t find this Wildhack anywhere on the web either. In other words, this is a bootleg (thanks to my friend and Tom Harrell discographer Klaus Gottwald for helping me come to this conclusion).

It is set time, so management abruptly cuts the Wes Montgomery playing on the house sound system and hands the mike over to Haden, who introduces the band to a very enthusiastic audience: Amina Claudine Myers (piano), Joe Daley (tuba), Ray Anderson (trombone), Ahnee Sharon Freeman (French horn), Tim Hagans (trumpet), Tom Harrell (trumpet and flugelhorn – especially loud applause), Makanda Ken McIntyre (alto and soprano sax), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Javon Jackson (tenor sax), Mark Burton (“from Boston”) playing percussion, Bill Stewart on drums (Dream Keeper was to be the last LMO recording with Paul Motian), and Mick Goodrick (this time on electric guitar). “The choir couldn’t make it. They were snowed in.” We’ll come back to that. (Beneath the bootleg’s veneer of sophistication are some sloppy errors. The back of the CD jacket lists the musicians, but they omit Bill Stewart, and they say Earl Gardener is on trumpet, though Haden never introduces him and though I highly doubt they would have had three trumpeters.)

The Orchestra will play (Haden informs the audience) music from the Grammy-nominated, Carla Bley-arranged Dream Keeper: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, Sandino, Rabo de Nube, and the Dream Keeper suite followed by Spiritual. A few warm-up notes, Haden sets the tempo, and the band begins. The arrangements are familiar from Dream Keeper. The set is generously long; Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, for example, is almost twenty minutes. So fix yourself a drink, sit back, and enjoy, because bootleg or not, the music is great. That’s what I did last night (scotch and soda). This morning, to be honest, I wanted to hurry this writing up a little, but as I started sampling the CD to refresh my memory, I couldn’t stop myself from listening to it all over again.

Back to that missing choir. When they get to the Dream Keeper suite, the Orchestra simply plays Carla Bley’s Dream Keeper Parts I-IV (the Langston Hughes poem) without it. The arrangement of the suite is familiar well into Canto del Pilón (I), when Amina Claudine Myers launches into an extended “out” piano tour de force, and Dream Keeper Part III leads to an extended collective improvisation treatment of Canto del Pilón (II). There is a section where Ray Anderson’s trombone is reminiscent of his We Shall Overcome showpiece on The Montreal Tapes, and the band may be doing the animal sounds of Canto del Pilón, I am not sure. With Anderson still playing Canto (recognizable from the “io, io”), the trumpets sneak in underneath and rise up with the Himno de Mujeres Libres. Wild cheers from the audience. Joe Daley reprises his virtuoso tuba solo on Himno (encouraged by the other musicians). As in the original, the suite ends with Dream Keeper Part IV and Tom Harrell’s flugelhorn.

The only disappointment with the music is that there is no Spiritual. I assume, since Haden announced it in his introduction, that they played it. So I don’t know whether it wasn’t captured by the WGBH recording or whether the bootleggers for some reason omitted it when they transferred the tape to disc. (As another earmark of their sloppiness, unaware of the omission, their track metadata from the CD says “Dream Keeper Suite/Spiritual,” their printed track listing on the back jacket says “Dream Keeper Suite > Spiritual,” and the liner notes from “M. Wildhack” say “Spiritual … ends the concert by featuring Joe Daley’s virtuoso tuba playing.” Incorrect. The vituoso tuba is a feature of Himno de Mujeres Libres. They also credit Amina Claudine Meyers with vocals as well as piano, which would have been possible on Spiritual. On the disc as is, there are no vocals.)


Not In Our Name

2005: Bley and Haden still carrying the banner and fighting the good fight. (The banner is the original one hand-made by Bley in 1969.)

Fourteen years and the start of a new millenium go by between Dream Keeper and the next studio LMO album. Between the time the original LMO unpacked their instruments in Judson Hall in 1969 and a new generation of musicians unpacked theirs on July 19-22, 2004, at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Music Village studio in Rome during a European tour that summer (the Forum Music Village was founded in 1969, by the way), I had gotten married, gone through three major career changes, moved from New York to Philadelphia, and raised two children. 9/11 had happened (I was in my Philadelphia office, which was evacuated for the day, and the firm I worked for lost one person on the Boston flight). And President Bush choked and took us to the disastrous war in Iraq.

“We were hoping sanity and justice would prevail. They lost out to greed, cruelty, and injustice. The machine won the election [in 2004] again by hook and by crook; The way it won in 2000. We want the world to know, however, that the devastation that this administration is wreaking is not in our name. It’s not in the name of many people in this country.”

Charlie Haden and Ruth Cameron [Haden], liner notes

“Special thanks to Miguel Zenón [alto saxophonist on the album] for having a dream about the title of the recording.”

liner notes

Besides Haden and Bley, who is once again the pianist, this reincarnation of the LMO has the familiar figures of Ahnee Sharon Freeman on French horn and Joe Daley on tuba, and new faces Zenón on alto sax, Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Michael Rodriguez and Seneca Black on trumpet, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Steve Cardenas on guitar, and Matt Wilson on drums.

Adios Spain and Latin America. This album is strictly about America, beginning with Haden’s buoyant and quite hummable title track in 6/8, though some LMO-knowledgable listeners may hear the Spanish element in Cardenas’s guitar intro, and again perhaps in Miguel Zenón’s opening solo (Zenón, who is from Puerto Rico, specializes in Latin rhythms and themes in his own prolific output). The number is a good introduction to the team, because all the instruments and sections are featured.

source: Wikipedia (click image to hear)

“A little piece of you / The little peace in me / Will die (This is not a miracle) / For this is not America.” David Bowie did not live to witness January 6 (2021), when a big piece of me died. Carla Bley’s characteristic ingeniousness converts this one into reggae. Curtis Fowlkes’s trombone starts his solo with a lick from Dixie, and in the coda the Orchestra squeezes in an off-key quote from The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Next is Carla Bley’s hip, but blue, blues march Blue Anthem. The hip comes in with her first licks on the piano. The blue comes in with the tenor sax solo (I can’t say whether it is Chris Cheek or Tony Malaby). Haden takes his first solo on the album. In lieu of a bugle, Sharon Freeman’s French horn sounds “Charge.” A little Marseillaise.

Suites have worked well on the previous albums, and here a four-part America the Beautiful medley provokes the two-sided question, what IS as well as what IS NOT America. “But wait a minute”: The New York Yankees and Arizona Diamonedbacks are about to play the second game of the 2001 World Series, one month after 9/11, when we were all with you, President Bush, before you dragged us into Iraq. Take out your handerchief — I need it every time — and listen to Ray Charles sing America the Beautiful. Baseball and Ray Charles. That is MY America.

There, now that I have that out of the way.

“I just had some ideas about the harmonies on that [they had just played a soundbite from America the Beautiful]. I wanted to change them to be more, you know, grinding against certain notes rather than all pleasant, not all vanilla. I wanted it to be a more difficult flavor.”

Carla Bley in a 2005 interview with NPR (about Not In Our Name)

This was not new territory for Carla Bley. Harvey Siders in JazzTimes wrote of her 2003 album Looking for America , “Inevitably, sardonic wit pervades her search on Looking for America as fragments of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ materialize-dreamlike, impressionistically and, above all, whimsically-throughout the CD” (check out in particular The National Anthem).

  1. The medley begins with Bley’s “not-vanilla” arrangement of America the Beautiful (Samuel Augustus Ward). Bley triumphantly lays down the chords straight until, instead of coming down on the last, she wanders off a little ominously. The brass then state the theme, also soberly, but again the chords in Bley’s chart are ominous. But then a break, and Miguel Zenón’s alto jazzes things up and leads to the next piece in the medley (one minute, forty-seven seconds in).
  2. For this and the following parts of the medley, Bley draws on three others who were looking for America. The liner notes call this one America the Beautiful by Gary McFarland. As far as I can tell, though, this is just Bley taking inspiration from McFarland’s 1968 album of that title — there is no individual McFarland song of that name. McFarland’s album title is sardonic. He inspected the fruited plain and found beer cans and plastic Jesuses. Bley will certainly have appreciated the wit in McFarland’s eclectic arrangements and song titles. There is a nice trumpet solo here, and I wish the liner notes told us whether it is Miguel Rodriguez (my guess) or Seneca Black.
  3. Lift Every Voice and Sing (four minutes and fifty-six seconds in) is a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900 and set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson in 1905. It is looking for, you might say, and hoping and praying for racial justice in America. It is often referred to as the “Black national anthem.” Here is a nice version of it. Alicia Keys sang it in an NFL-produced video for the 2021 Super Bowl LV. All I can say about the comments the video inspired on YouTube is, America is complicated. Ahnee Sharon Freeman’s French horn is featured, then the tenor sax (again I wish the liner notes told us whether it is Chris Cheek or Tony Malaby). The Orchestra joins in to take it out. This kicks off (at nine minutes, fifty-nine seconds) a great two-minute suspenseful solo by Matt Wilson on his snare and tom toms. At exactly twelve minutes, as the drum line continues, the Orchestra and Haden come in with the theme of Ornette Coleman’s Skies of America.
  4. Skies of America is an extended symphonic composition that was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and released on record by Columbia in 1972. Here is the opening piece. As per Coleman’s original, the LMO here goes into a collective improvisation until every one drops out except Bley, and her piano transitions to a non-vanilla but ultimately affirmative reprise of America the Beautiful.

Skies of America is the only part of Not In Our Name where you hear the free-jazz or avant-garde style so associated with the first LMO albums, and here that is largely a function of Coleman’s composition in the first place. I think that style had long since exhausted itself by 2005. In fact the remainder of the album is remarkably somber.

Charlie Haden must have heard and played Amazing Grace a thousand times, and its inclusion in this particular album was probably a foregone conclusion. I am glad Charlie lived long enough to see Barack become president, though not long enough to see Barack do Amazing Grace (on the other hand, he — Charlie — was spared the horrific event at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that precipitated it).

“I am now satisfied,” Antonin Dvorak said in this May 21, 1893 interview with the New York Herald, “that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the negro melodies.”

The Czech composer Antonín Dvořák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City from 1892 to 1895. While there he wrote his Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, B. 178, aka “From the New World” or “New World Symphony.” It premiered at Carnegie Hall. In 1922 Dvořák’s pupil William Arms Fisher wrote the Goin’ Home lyrics to the English-horn melody of the second (Largo) movement, which cemented the notion that this movement was based on an African-American spiritual. (Here in an oft-viewed video.)

In Bley’s arrangement, one of the LMO trumpeters plays the English-horn theme and follows with a lovely, lyrical solo, one of my favorite moments on the album. Miguel Zenón also has a nice solo, followed by the orchestral climax.

As far as I can tell, Bill Frisell first recorded his lovely, measured, 24-bar composition Throughout on his 1983 album Bill Frisell ….. In Line. However, in including it here, Haden may have had more in mind his daughter’s recording of it with Frisell in 2003 (Petra Haden and Bill Frisell).

Bley’s arrangement begins as a trio. She and Steve Cardenas’s guitar play the treble and bass clef respectively, though Haden’s voicing is prominent. They do this for two choruses, then the woodwinds come in and consecutive solos by the two tenor saxes. During that second solo the Orchestra does a slow crescendo and then plays the theme.

Adagio is the American composer Samuel Barber’s famous adaptation for string orchestra of the second movement of his String Quartet, Opus 11 (premiered in Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center by Arturo Toscanini in November 1938). (The ineffable sadness of this piece comes in part for many of us from its association with Vietnam at the end of the movie Platoon.) Bley’s arrangement for full orchestra (no solos) is once again superb.

Born in protest like its predecessors, Not In Our Name nevertheless has a very different feel to it. The protest does not have quite the same bite. Perhaps that is in part because, while the invasion of Iraq may have been entirely wrong-headed, 9/11 and radical Muslim terrorism were real and could not be ignored. Perhaps also because there is no Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd, or Dewey Redman honking and screaming and blowing us out. Perhaps also because Charlie was older now, sadder and wiser, as they say.

Different, but for me an unqualifiedly enjoyable and moving listening experience. I think of the album as being in three movements. The first movement — Not In Our Name, This Is Not America, and Blue Anthem — is a mixture of the affable, the wry, and the blue. The second movement — the America the Beautiful medley followed by Amazing Grace — starts out carrying forward the wry but ends with spirituals that you can’t mess around with. It demonstrates to the listener not what America is not but what it is. The selections for the third movement — Goin’ Home, Throughout, and Adagio — are by three American composers (let’s take Dvořák, rooting around in African-American and Native American themes, as having been American from 1892 to 1895). The selections show us again what America is or can be, but they also express, to me at least, some deep reflection and sadness on the part of Charlie, an expression I see in his coutenance in the photo at the top of this post, from around this time.


Time/Life

“The inspiration for Charlie to make this new album was his observation of the increasingly disastrous state of our environment, and how unconsciously we humans are treating each other, our planet, as well as all living beings on this earth.”

Ruth Cameron Haden, liner notes

“When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, the musicians in the Liberation Music Orchestra thought they were out of a job.”

Carla Bley, liner notes

Ruth Cameron Haden, Charlie’s manager, co-producer, and widow, and Carla Bley, his LMO partner for over forty years, tell the story in the liner notes of their tribute album, Time/Life (Songs for the Whales and Other Beings). Haden’s concern for the environment went back at least to 1979, when he wrote Song For The Whales and recorded it with Old and New Dreams (this was his group with Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, and Dewey Redman). Carla Bley too had written Silent Spring (with reference to Rachel Carson’s 1962 exposé) in the 60s. According to Carla, it was Ruth’s idea that Charlie should make another LMO album, this time protesting the mistreatment of the earth’s plants and animals.

It got as far as 2011’s Jazz Middleheim Festival in Antwerp (Belgium), whose director Bertrand Flamang wanted to focus the festival on the environment. Haden was all in, of course, and Belgian Public Radio taped the LMO playing Miles’s Blue in Green (“which, to Charlie at least, had an evocative connection to the environment (besides, he loved the tune!)” — Ruth Cameron) and Song For The Whales. The musicians, besides Haden and Bley, are Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby, Michael Rodriguez and Seneca Black, Curtis Fowlkes, Joe Daley, Steve Cardenas, and Matt Wilson from the Not In Our Name assemblage, with Loren Stillman on alto sax and Vincent Chancey on French horn. Soloists (thanks Ruth and Carla for identifying them in the liner notes) are Rodriguez, Haden, and Cheek on Blue in Green and Haden and Malaby on Song For The Whales. These songs form, respectively, the bookends of the album.

Unfortunately in 2012 Charlie was struck with post-polio syndrome, his health took a sudden downturn, and he was never able to resume work on an album. He passed away July 11, 2014.

“When I finally got the call from Ruth that Charlie had passed away, all I could think to do was to write music. I sat at the piano and my hands played what I thought would be a final chord. But it was the first chord of Time/Life, the piece that would become my goodbye to him.”

Carla Bley

Carla gifted this composition to Ruth. Ruth asked her if she would write an arrangement of it for the LMO and co-produce a tribute to Charlie. Of course Carla said yes. For the 2016 studio recordings, the musicians are the same 2011 ones enumerated above except that Haden’s friend (and Bley’s boyfriend) Steve Swallow plays the (electric) bass. The fourteen-minute-plus Time/Life is not only a farewell to Charlie but a tribute to the LMO musicians past and present, who played with such enthusiasm for the causes and with such brilliance, because each is given a solo, the first and longest being that of Tony Malaby, who also takes it out.

Soloists on Silent Spring are Chris Cheek and Michael Rodriguez. That 2011 European tour had included a date in Oslo, where they played (though it was not recorded) Bley’s composition Útviklingssang, written by her with reference to the disruption in northern Norway by a dam construction of the lives of fish, wildlife, and native peoples. Its soloists are Loren Stillman and Curtis Fowlkes.

At the end of Song For The Whales, Charlie addresses the audience: “The whales represent all living creatures. They’re so precious and so wonderful, just like this universe is, like this planet is, and like you are. You have to never forget that. You’re a part of it, we’re here for a reason, and that’s to make sure this universe stays beautiful, and wonderful, and brilliant, and, it’s so important to remember how precious this life is. Thank you so much.”

And thank you, Charlie and Carla.

¡Viva la lucha!

Published by Randy Gibbons

I am retired. I have several strong interests, in particular classical studies (Greek and Latin); a lifelong passion for music, especially jazz; and more recently, dabbling in philosophy. For more information about me, click on About Me.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: