Charlie Haden & the Liberation Music Orchestra

The Montreal Tapes

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This is number four in the series chronicling the week of concerts with different line-ups the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal devoted to the great bassist in 1989. Which means this version of the Liberation Music Orchestra may be even more star-studded than usual and creates the "problem" of giving everybody enough solo space without taking away from the ensemble interaction. The Montreal Tapes doesn't really resolve the dilemma -- it sidesteps it by setting up two long pieces as blowing vehicles to showcase soloists and two shorter ones to spotlight the full ensemble. Mick Goodrick's unaccompanied guitar triggers Joe Lovano's muscular statement of the Spanish-tinged theme of "La Pasionaria." The saxophonist then takes a long, strong solo backed by only Haden and drummer Paul Motian before handing off halfway through to Geri Allen's stabbing piano trio statement. Only then does Haden's solo take it to the closing band statement. "Silence" is a brass section feature before Haden's beautiful, sad closing solo over Allen's spare chordal backing and the sprightly, uptempo "Sandino" is for the entire orchestra with a trumpet solo from Tom Harrell (probably) and ensemble voicings behind the bass solo.

Then there's "We Shall Overcome," the civil rights anthem that perfectly reflects the somber, inspirational dignity of the political themes that Haden explores with this unit. In theory, anyway, because after a minute-long stating the theme, this "We Shall Overcome" settles down into a basic blues and Ray Anderson's trombone solo just rips any semblance of solemnity right out of it. His irreverent whoops, growls and comic snorts rouses the rabble, riles the ever-discreet Motian into bashing out some big-time blues bombs, and just plain liberates the Orchestra to become a big band juggernaut. Ernie Watts' suave eloquence on tenor gets gospel church shout-outs of encouragement from the musician congregation, Allen goes deep barrelhouse with her solo and if you ever wondered what Charlie Haden would have sounded like as the walking blues anchor of Count Basie's orchestra... Too bad the Liberation Music Orchestra is such a sporadic project for Haden or there'd undoubtedly be more transcendent moments like that. Can't say this is the pick of the group's discs or even of Haden's The Montreal Tapes series, but the musicians play up to the occasion (Geri Allen, in particular, shines) and man, that version of "We Shall Overcome..."

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