Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden

Last Dance
ECM 2399

By Ken Waxman

Prescient by happenstance, Last Dance had just been released when double bassist Charlie Haden died from the effects of post-polio syndrome at 76 on July 11. Actually recorded in 2007, this nine-track recital, featuring Haden’s and pianist Keith Jarrett’s reimaging of jazz and American songbook classics, demonstrates only one aspect of the bass master’s skills. His evolutionary recasting of his instrument’s role in the music, defined during his membership in Ornette Coleman’s barrier-breaking quartet, and his political commitment, expressed by his leadership of the aptly named Liberation Music Orchestra can be researched elsewhere.

Instead Haden, and Jarrett, in whose quartet he played from 1967 to 1976, deal here with instantly recognizable melodies in a novel fashion, but subtly enough so that familiar underpinnings aren’t neglected. As noteworthy, with Jarrett’s reputation for immoderation and showiness, it’s Haden’s bass work that puts the finer point on these recreations. At time for instance when it appears as if the pianist is opting for ponderous readings, dialogue with Haden prods the pianist to open up the tune.

Case in point is when Haden’s rhythmically perfect counter melody adds ballast to Jarrett’s interpretation of “Everything Happens to Me”. With the pianist now commenting on the chromatic bass line, dancing key strokes become more than decoration. Similarly “It Might As Well Be Spring” bounces along as a too-familiar show tune until Haden’s plucked reverb exposes the piece’s underlying gravitas, which is maintained even as the head is reprised. Even “Dance of the Infidels”, the set’s one up-tempo number, benefits from Haden’s ability to suggest a sub-theme while solidly accompanying the pianist’s narrative elaboration.

Poignantly, the bassist’s modest, yet powerful solo on Goodbye, the CD’s concluding track, adds an appropriate finality to the project. Haden’s string exposition creates the proper context for Jarrett’s theme variations. Unwittingly perhaps, Haden exits this session leaving behind a first-class demonstration of one facet of his sizable musical talent.

—For Whole Note September 2014