Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett's bassist for decades, and one of the last living "jazz golden age" legends, Charlie Haden passed away two weeks ago. Besides countless collaborative works, he left numerous collections of his own albums. For decades, his projects such as the Liberation Music Orchestra or Quartet West were among the most popular on the international jazz scene.
Besides the aforementioned groups, Haden also released a series of duets, which even if they were not so well-known, often contain a lot of interesting material. Haden's first duet sessions took place in early '76, when four compositions were recorded. The first four songs (duets with Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian, Ornette Coleman and Alice Coltrane) were released that same year as "Closeness" on the tiny Horizon Records And Tapes label. A year later, Horizon released the rest of the material (the choice of compositions for the former release is a bit strange since the outtakes, released later, are quite often stronger than what was released first).
So, the album of four "outtakes", each contains a Haden duet with either Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman or pianist Hampton Haves. What a great time it was, when such compositions were counted as "outtakes", for the coming decades, even leading jazz albums will hardly contain such material!
"The Golden Number" opens with Haden's tuneful composition (all but one song on this album are Haden's, the other one - Coleman's) on which Cherry's trumpet flies over Charlie's almost lazy bass. Cherry's trumpet solo is quite lyrical and with no doubt one of his most beautiful ever played (he plays flute on this song as well).
The second and final composition on side A is a duet with tenor Archie Shepp - and it's a bomb. Twelve minutes long, this song is driven by Shepp's soulful and bopish sax from the very first seconds. In the mid-70s Archie Shepp was in transition leaving his early explosive free sax attacks and searching for new ground. Similarly, with his own albums of that period, he plays something between free-bop and balladry, still quite free though. On this duet, Haden is obviously on back-up, supporting Shepp's speech-like sax soloing.
"Turnaround" is originally an Ornette Coleman composition, but here it is played by Haden and pianist Hampton Hawes. Hampton Hawes is a great pianist, but the more traditional of all the collaborators on this album, so the whole thing sounds really nice, but a bit out of place between the others. Haden demonstrates his hard-bop abilities (Hawes is the obvious leader anyway). After "Golden Number", Haden's next release will be a collection of duets with Hampton Hawes, which sounds better all in one place (probably because the music on this next album is more homogeneous, not contrasting as on here).
The closer is the almost thirteen minutes long title composition, the duet with Ornette Coleman. Surprisingly, it's very tuneful and lyrical, even sentimental, not what you usually can expect from Coleman. Having been collaborators for years, Coleman and Haden demonstrate excellent communication and rare emotional relations, making this song an excellent final for this great (if too short) album.
Charlie Haden's fame comes not from his formidable technique, but from his tunes, collaborations, and the variety of collectives he founded and led, from the emotional atmosphere of his music and his naively optimistic political manifests. "The Golden Number" may not be Haden's best record, but it may be the right candidate to listen to now, just for remembering Charlie, because of its intimate atmosphere and bare-naked simplicity, which is so close to greatness.
All eight duets, recorded in 1976, and released originally on two Horizon vinyls, were later re-released on one CD, which is probably the easiest way to listen to this music.