[JPL] All that political 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  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.
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
More information about the jazzproglist