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Charlie Haden - The Best of Quartet West

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It would seem a strange thing compiling the work of Charlie Haden's decade-long Quartet West Group onto a single disc. The reason isn't that they recorded so much material, but more because the material was themed record by record. Yet that is exactly why a compilation like this does work, because this group played music utilizing different aspects of the same theme: to evoke the spirits, ghosts and sprites of a Los Angeles that has moved off the screen of real life into the stuff of myth. That Haden and his group, which included drummer Larance Marable (who replaced Billy Higgins after the group's first, self-titled album in 1986), saxophonist Ernie Watts, and pianist Alan Broadbent could make it all sound so present and real, gives the impression that there was truth in the images. This is not only from a West Coast point of view (though there it is imbued more with the striking visual reveries to accompany the tunes) but also in the popular culture mythos in the collective American mind. The nostalgia inherent in the quartet's projects of playing standards and film themes, as well as original material slanted in such a way, are offset by the genuine innovative heart of jazz when performed by masters such as these men are. Higgins is here in the gorgeous reading of "Body and Soul," and the change is measured sharply by the next album In Angel City, as Marable, a less "busy" drummer, played more in song line form. Marable's drumming on Haden's "First Song (For Ruth)" offers the striking difference in a number of ways, as his fills are more rounded and warm, while Higgins' playing was sharper and more pronounced. The sense of the unit flows a bit more. Haden wrote much of the material for this group, and the obvious ease with which the ensemble plays them offers a view into the mind of the composer who could compose to the strengths of both individuals and the group — note "Our Spanish Love Song" and the title cut from Always Say Goodbye. Other well-known tunes, such as Leonard Bernstein's "Lonely Town" from the album, The Art of the Song, with a wonderful vocal by Shirley Horn and violin solo (fronting an orchestra conducted by Broadbent), reflect not nostalgia, but the ability of a jazz quartet to evoke what is not only missing, but gone. The emptiness created between the musicians and the singer is profound, sad, and utterly beautiful. Elsewhere, Stéphane Grappelli plays a violin solo over his own taped violin solo from a 1949 performance of "Where Are You My Love," with Django Reinhardt, Gianni Safred, Carlo Pecori, and Aurelio de Carolis. The wonders of technology being what they are, Haden makes it all sound seamless. The great moment here, however, is in the reading of Victor Young's "The Left Hand of God," from the 1996 album Now Is the Hour, where the quartet performs the tune nearly straight yet in front of an orchestra arranged and conducted by Broadbent. In the long lonesome tone of Watts' saxophone, the built up emotion comes streaming from the tune with elegance and grace — these word are perhaps the best description of everything this band ever recorded. This is an excellent compilation to be sure, but it does make the listener long for more; for the total experience of Quartet West. Consider this, then, an introduction more than a summing up: there is so much more to look forward to from this group.

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