[JPL] All that political jazz

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat Sep 20 14:58:17 EDT 2008

  All that political jazz

*By BRITT ROBSON,* Special to the Star Tribune

September 20, 2008

*D*espite its seemingly combative title, "Not in Our Name," by jazz 
bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, is a surprisingly 
gentle and hopeful musical document.

There are occasional dissonant undercurrents and dense, sophisticated 
interplay among the 12 orchestra members. But the dominant attitude on 
this program of all-American music -- which ranges from a section of 
Dvorak's "New World Symphony" and a reggae treatment of a Pat Metheny 
tune to "America the Beautiful" and "Amazing Grace" -- is one of 
persevering beauty in the face of strife and treachery.

Unapologetically left-wing in his political views, Haden wrote in the 
liner notes to this 2005 CD, "Although we lost the [2004] election, we 
have not lost the commitment to reclaim our country in the name of 
humanity and decency."

Nearly four years later, the 71-year-old Haden sounds weary and 
depressed. He formed LMO in the late 1960s after listening in his car to 
radio reports of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia. Asked how the political 
situation has changed since then, the bassist sighs.

"I'm sorry to say that it's pretty much remained the same or even gotten 
worse with this Bush administration -- and the Nixon administration was 
bad enough," Haden said from his home in Santa Monica, Calif. "The 
situation in Iraq is horrible: The injustice is evident and no one is 
being held accountable."

One's enjoyment of the LMO, especially in its current incarnation, would 
seem to be a matter of musical taste as much as political inclination. 
Right-wing jazz buffs are likely to come away from an LMO concert more 
enriched than, say, lefty punk-rockers.

LMO boasts a lineup of esteemed jazz figures. Haden and LMO 
arranger/pianist Carla Bley have filled halls the size of Ted Mann with 
other ensembles. And 10 of the 12 LMO members who appeared on "Not in 
Our Name" are making the tour (with able replacements for alto 
saxophonist Miguel Zenon and guitarist Steve Cardenas).

Bley is a steadfast iconoclast who really rose to the challenge of 
refreshing and transforming these frequently rote anthems without losing 
their integrity. And Haden, who once sang at the Grand Ol' Opry and is 
finishing a country record, has a knack for leavening the thorniest 
arrangements with penetrating rhythmic simplicity (remember, he was long 
the bassist for Ornette Coleman). Their virtues are synergistic, and 
mischievous, supple drummer Matt Wilson is the cherry on top of a 
dynamic rhythm section.

Beautiful, not angry music

When Haden began setting his itinerary for the Liberation Music 
Orchestra tour this year, he found few takers. "Considering what is 
going on in this country, I expected to be playing a lot of universities 
and other places." But he has landed only at Duke University and the 
University of Minnesota's Ted Mann Concert Hall on Saturday, in a 
concert sponsored by Walker Art Center.

"For some reason, arts presenters are either more afraid or more 
conservative than they used to be," Haden said.

It would be naïve to imagine that the LMO is going to soft-pedal its 
politics five weeks before a presidential election. Haden has released 
four LMO discs over the past 39 years, each timed to protest a different 
Republican administration. Although it has no lyrics, he wrote the title 
track to "Not in Our Name" in tribute to the signs he saw in the windows 
of Europe as the second Iraq war was being initiated.

While he expects to devote much of the program to the wide range of 
material on "Not in Our Name," the LMO has been known to branch out in 
previous concerts, once turning the civil rights anthem "We Shall 
Overcome" into a compelling jazz helix that lasted nearly 30 minutes.

Would Sen. John McCain's election prompt a fifth Liberation Music 
Orchestra record? "Who knows?" Haden answered, a little feistiness 
creeping back into his voice. "I might do another record when we play 
the Blue Note [club in New York City] the week before the election. I 
don't ever make a record to be angry; I make it out of concern for 
justice and equality because that's what makes for beautiful music. It's 
hard to have hope sometimes. But I still do."

Britt Robson is a Minneapolis writer.

© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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