Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden ‘Last Dance’ CD/2LP (ECM) 5/5

Keith-Jarrett-Charlie-HadenDuet recordings in the jazz idiom are by no means a new phenomenon. One thinks immediately of piano-saxophone pairings such as Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, or more recently of Joe Lovano and Hank Jones. However, piano-bass duets are somewhat thin on the ground, though not entirely unheard of and Haden himself has performed with the likes of Kenny Baron during the 1990s. The initial spark for the present collaboration came with a 2007 documentary on Haden’s career entitled, ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ on which Jarrett spoke about the bassist. This, in turn, led to informal playing between the pair and an eventual recording session at Keith Jarrett’s own home in March 2007. It is the music from those sessions that are contained within. This album is a reunion of sorts since Charlie Haden was part of the earliest formation that Keith Jarrett led dating back to 1967. Furthermore, Haden participated on the 1975 ECM album ‘Arbour Zena’ that also featured Jan Garbarek. Haden returned the compliment when recording in 1976 his first set as a leader, ‘Closeness’ (A & M/Horizon), that featured Jarrett as one of the duo partners. Indeed there is a pertinent parallel between the two small ensemble careers of the musicians in that Haden has recorded with Quartet West while Jarrett has recorded extensively with his long-time trio. A classic selection of the Great American songbook and a few jazz standards are the fare here and the listener is immediately greeted by the solemnity of the opener, ‘My Old Flame’, while there is an interesting comparison to be made between the cover of Rodger and Hammerstein’s ‘It might as well be spring’ here with the Brad Mehldau trio version contained on the latter’s debut recording for Nonesuch. Whereas the Mehldau reworking is taken at a sprightly pace, Jarrett, in contrast, opts for an achingly slow interpretation, yet one that is nonetheless charged with human emotion. On Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’, the tempo is a tad more uplifting than might usually be attempted, though in the phrasing at least there are subtle shades of the composer/pianist in Jarrett’s interpretation. The latter states the main theme beautifully on Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s ‘My Ship’ and he has never lost the ability to play prettily with rock-solid accompaniment from Haden. Bop inflections permeate Bud Powell’s ‘Dance of the Infidels’. What comes across on these duets as a whole is the beautifully phrased stating of the theme as illustrated for example on ‘Every time we say goodbye’. Each piece has been carefully thought out by the duo and a different approach adopted accordingly. However, the duets never become formulaic since both musicians possess that key quality of being able to listen closely to one another and correspondingly play off one another. In general, the duets are surprisingly long in length with several over the nine-minute mark, yet the test of genius is that the time flies by for the listener and that speaks volumes of the quality of music on display here.

Tim Stenhouse