Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden – Last Dance
(ECM 2399. Review by Peter Marsh)
Back in 2007 pianist Jarrett and bassist Haden recorded Jasmine, an album of duets that marked their first meeting since the dissolution of Jarrett’s American Quartet in the late 1970s. Last Dance was recorded at the same sessions and feels like a bonus disc to Jasmine (it features alternate takes of two tunes from the earlier album for a start).
There’s an old musicians’ joke which asks how many bass players it takes to change a lightbulb. The answer is none – the pianist can do it with their left hand. Boom boom. There’s some truth in this of course, and it’s certainly true that bass and piano duets are pretty rare; even when listening to Duke Ellington and Ray Brown’s Jimmy Blanton tribute, it’s hard to escape the feeling that it’s just something they did while they were waiting for the drummer to turn up. Haden clearly doesn’t share that opinion, having previously recorded duets with pianists Hank Jones, Paul Bley, Denny Zeitlin, John Taylor and Chris Anderson to name but a few. Jarrett’s very few forays into the form have included a previous session with Haden for 1976’s Closeness; other than that he’s been heard almost exclusively solo or with his Standards Trio for the last three decades or so.
As with Jasmine, the material is drawn from a mix of classics and standards. The pace is mostly gentle, the mood is introspective. The exception is a sprightly nip through Dance of The Infidels, where Jarrett gets a chance to channel the glorious energy of Bud Powell’s quicksilver runs while Haden holds things down with metronomic precision. Despite his credentials as a free jazz player, Haden’s playing on standards is as ‘inside’ as you can get. He rarely strays from the lower range of the instrument, concentrating on putting the right note in the right place at the right time; likewise his solos are graceful ruminations on the prevailing harmony. ‘Stately’ might be the best adjective.
Meanwhile Jarrett seems energised (if that’s the right word) by Haden’s presence. He manages to wring something new out of a hoary old chestnut like Round Midnight and even uncovers a delicate lyricism in the banal, rinky tink melody of Everything Happens To Me. Similarly the luxurious swirl of My Old Flame (a Jarrett favourite) is luminously beautiful.
The album title and indeed some of the choices of material (Goodbye and Everytime We Say Goodbye) give the proceedings a valedictory feel. Though sadly Haden’s been quite ill of late and often unable to play, I hope it’s not the last we’ll hear from the duo (though I’d be keen on them adding a drummer if there’s a next time round…)