LP review

LP REVIEW: Steve Cardenas – Charlie & Paul

Steve Cardenas – Charlie & Paul
(Newvelle Records NV013LP. LP review by Geoff Winston)

“This was not the street and its endless, hurried footsteps, the mayhem of broken lines, but instead the gracefulness of gliding, the beauty of flow.” This phrase, from French author, Ingrid Astier, sums up the spirit and ambience of Charlie & Paul, the exquisitely crafted, Steve Cardenas-led tribute to bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, the first album in the latest set of LPs from Newvelle Records.

Each of Newvelle Records’ third season of limited edition, niche vinyl albums – pressed on clear vinyl, beautifully recorded, exquisitely packaged – is accompanied by a short story by Astier, printed in full on the inner sleeve, and this line is from is the The Heart is a Whirling Dervish, the story coupled with Charlie & Paul.

Guitarist Cardenas, who had been a major part of Motian’s and Haden’s groups over fourteen and ten years, respectively, assembled his quartet with accomplished musicians who had also spent time with one or other of these two great masters. Bassist Thomas Morgan was with Motian for the greater part of an early ten-year period, and Loren Stillman, on tenor sax, put in time with both, while drummer Matt Wilson has said of Haden, “He has always made me feel incredibly welcome.” To further emphasise these bonds, Cardenas, Stillman and Wilson were recently seen together in the Liberation Music Orchestra, with Carla Bley at Cadogan Hall.

Of the compositions on the album five are by Motian, three of which were never previously released, and four are by Haden. The interpretations are of nuanced understatement and delicacy, but not without serious backbone. One senses the deepest appreciation born out of each musician’s individual experiences and the insights gained through their unique and sustained engagements with two such significant figures.

As such, Charlie & Paul is in many ways a musician’s album, one for the sophisticated ear, which can pick out the references, the subtle touches and the gently inspired interweaving of the melodic and improvised threads. There’s something of the humility of Haden and the assertiveness of Motion running all the way through. Whilst the playing doesn’t go off-course, as befits the album’s position as heartfelt homage, it also avoids the predictable. Haden’s short, sharp In the Moment runs on percussive energy, while, from the opening notes of Motian’s Kalypso and Riff Raff the presence of Ornette’s guiding hand is unmistakably in evidence in angular accents and deceptively simple, synchronised passages, with Wilson driving pulsating, African-derived rhythms to define the momentum. Morgan is given space for a majestic solo spot in Haden’s Pocket Full of Cherry, after a hectic Stillman solo and Cardenas, with head below the parapet for much of the outing, picks his moments to inject grainy, grazed textures and deftly crafted harmonics, and ambles in to Frisell and Cooder territory in Motian’s Mex-country flavoured Prarie Avenue Cowboy, heels-a-clicking!

It’s neat, tight and virtuosic all the way through, but with a warm, relaxed tone that is down to the  special understanding that each of the quartet brings to the mix. Talking of which, as with the recordings in Newvelle’s first two series, Marc Uselli adds a magic touch in the analogue mix, to capture to perfection the essence of each musician’s contribution.

LINK: Newvelle Records website

Categories: LP review

2 replies »

  1. Many thanks to Matt Wilson (drummer on Charlie & Paul) for his tweet to LJN on 26 May: “I have been with the Liberation Orchestra since 2004 and I was with the band in 2017 in London. Thank you for the review.”
    I was at the Cadogen Hall concert (final night of EFG London Jazz Festival, November 2016) which Peter Slavid reviewed for LJN (http://www.londonjazznews.com/2016/11/review-charlie-hadens-liberation-music.html) and also had an excellent in-depth review from Geoff Andrew (https://geoffandrew.com/2016/11/21/not-in-their-names-carla-bley-and-liberation-music-orchestra-in-london).
    I remember the concert as a quietly moving event and Matt Wilson's obvious enjoyment in being part of this special ensemble, delivering timely, dynamic interventions to occasionally break the introspective spell. The sounds of the whales evoked by Steve Cardenas, Wilson and bassist Darak Oles, recalled in Andrews' review, had a particularly memorable poignancy.
    Thanks, Matt for your thanks (!) and for the impetus to further reflect on that concert.
    Geoff Winston

  2. Matt (Wilson), I have now just realised the point of your Tweet! Somehow the wrong name had crept in to my text when referring to the Liberation Orchestra concert – 'Morgan' instead of 'Wilson', which I didn't spot, even when I checked the copy; sometimes one gets too close to one's own text. This has now been corrected and your name appears instead of Thomas's. Apologies for that unintentional mistake.
    Geoff Winston

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