Thursday, January 30, 2003

Haden's jazz ballads bewitching

Concert review

By Jeff Wilson
Enquirer contributor

At age 65 most people want to retire. Jazz bassist Charlie Haden, who performed with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba at Parrish Auditorium at Miami University-Hamilton on Tuesday, has reached retirement age, but he seems busier than ever.

Not to mention more popular. His Quartet West is among the most successful bands in jazz, and his broad-ranging projects with Pat Metheny expanded the jazz audience.

In 2001, Haden and Rubalcaba formed the nucleus of the band that performed on Nocturne, which won a Grammy Award for best Latin jazz album. Focusing on North American jazz, Tuesday's seven-song, 90-minute set was to some extent a departure from Nocturne, but it shared the same lyrical emphasis.

It was, quite simply, ballad heaven.

The opening number was also the most ambitious. Dark and mesmerizing, Gary Peacock's "Vignette" used repetition and advanced harmonies to cast a bewitching spell.

Thelonious Monk's "Ruby My Dear" offered the duo a chance to delve into a jazz standard.

By then the Cuban-born Rubalcaba had proved a master of setting up and developing solos. Hunched over the keyboard, he began most solos with his hands so close together they were almost touching. He waited until the melody of each song was crystal clear to play jagged lines and ascending and descending runs, and even then kept returning to the melody.

His composition, "Transparence," was a highlight. From Nocturne, "Transparence" is a heartrending modern version of a bolero, a traditional Latin American ballad.

Wearing a jacket and tie, the salt-and-pepper haired Haden seemed trim and fit and a little grouchy because of the cold weather (can't blame him; he's from Los Angeles) and the half-empty auditorium.

Soloing on every song, he was less interested in playing a flurry of notes than in embracing the melody of the composition. It would be hard to find a bassist better suited to solo on the set closer, the impressionistic "Blue in Green" from Miles Davis' seminal Kind of Blue.

Returning for an encore, Haden lamented the state of world politics and said, "Right now, more than ever in this world, we need beauty." An original composition, "First Song," offered just that.

Backstage after the concert, Haden said he would love to play Cincinnati. Considering how much of the audience traveled from Cincinnati to see the show, it seems a good bet that he would draw a better crowd here. So who's interested?

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