on November 19, 2003
The criticisms miss the point. This is an effort that does a rare thing - it brings together men and women who can put the experience of life to judicious use in their art. Unlike listening to the deterioration other performers have faced, in later years, at the hands of studio production teams that no longer know what to do with them, Charlie Haden has found a way to create a beautiful volume of space in which to let the years of these venerated performers shine through. It is in this space you shall hear the notes of lives lived and savored.
on May 9, 2001
The outstanding Quartet West album is 'Always Say Goodbye'. On that CD, Broadbent demonstrates his skills at orchestral arrangement, and Haden deftly selects great oldies to intermingle with some of his own superb compositions. Haden also takes some historic performances -- such as Jo Stafford on vocals -- to bring a resonance to the new covers. The experiment was very successful.
You can see the logic behind this subsequent album: instead of using dusty old recordings, why don't we use today's state-of-the-art production to capture the voices of several current artists? And why don't we let Alan orchestrate the whole album?
The trouble is that the orchestration, beautiful though it is throughout, constrains the band terribly. And the vocals swamp the album. (Actually the Jo Stafford track on 'Always Say Goodbye' is one of the weakest on the album.) They say that the saxophone is the instrument closest to the human voice, and it is Ernie Watts who suffers most on this album, The sax is simply crowded out by all the singing. It is only on the stand-out track, 'Prelude en la mineur', an instrumental re-working of a Ravel piece, that Watts finally gets a chance to let rip.
Shirley Horn's vocals are fine, particularly on 'Lonely Town'. But I simply cannot listen to any of the tracks containing Bill Henderson's voice, and sadly, there are four of them.
The most touching song is the last one, where Haden himself bravely takes the vocal lead. It's a song his mother used to sing on the radio, back in the early 1940s, when the entire Haden family would appear on KWTO Springfield. It is a farewell to the dead, and also a reassurance that one day they will meet again.
If you want a quick survey of this CD, check out tracks #1, #9 and #13. It's a long way from the days of Haden's playing with Ornette Coleman and the Liberation Orchestra, and it's very mellow.
on May 24, 2000
Despite its problems, I think this album still deserves a five-star rating. Seemingly inspired by the music of moody classic cinema, a listener might well envision a seedy nightclub in a fog-swept black & white San Francisco of the 1940s or a tearful Ingrid Bergman about to board a twin-propellor leaving Rick and Casablanca behind her forever.
Regardless of which side of the Atlantic you envision on your moody musical journey, this is definitely a lounging type of music, perfect for lazy Sunday afternoons, after-theatre drives around town on warm summer evenings, warm candle-lit baths, or romantic dinners for two. The beautifully romantic ballads range from the longing "Lonely Town" to the mostly-resolute "I'm Going to Laugh You Right Out of My Life" to the quietly complacent "The Folks Who Live on the Hill." Interspersed with these great standards, however, are wonderful instrumental pieces which frame the remaining vocals with stunningly dramatic moods.
The only flaw is the rather unappealing voice of Bill Henderson, who seems to be suffering from a weak set of lungs, if not from lack of enthusiasm. Henderson seems to strive for the vocal capabilities of Shirley Horn, who sings on 1, 4, 7 and 10, but is incapable of achieving those same dramatic pitches of his fellow artist. Nevertheless, he does an adequate job on "Ruth's Waltz" and "Easy on the Heart" even if "Why Did I Choose You" is downright painful to listen to. Haden, who sings on 13, seems similarly incapable of reaching Horn's heights, but "Wayfaring Stranger," the traditional song he chose to render, is capable of carrying itself with the slow somber tone it evokes in the listener.
Regardless of its faults, this remains a beautiful album. I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves the kind of sit-at-home music it captures so very well in its beautifully jazzy tunes that are, at the very least, easy on the ears.
on May 11, 2000
I'm a great fan and admirer of Charlie Haden and eagerly buy anything new from him. But as a fan, I must point out his failures as well as his triumphs, and this is a failure, albeit of the noble variety.
While the concept is certainly fine, his great Quartet West group accompaning singers, the execution is poor in a couple vital areas. The first is the repetoire, the selection of songs is poor. While there is a fine example of an underappreciated 'standard,' "The Folks That Live On The Hill," the rest of the material is mediocre and forgettable, or, in the case of new lyrics added to the nice Haden tune "Walt For Ruth," just plain bad. As for the singing, well, Shirley Horn is herself, which means slow, lush, mellow and easy on the ears, and Haden's performance on the spiritual is truely sweet and moving. Henderson is a huge weak link, though, and really stands out in that capacity; while his diction may be admirable, that is such a basic part of jazz singing that it's daming with faint praise to point that out. The rest of his skills don't make the grade - his phrasing is poor and choppy [he seems to be having problems with his breath], there's not much energy in his rhythms, he's unpleasantly behind the beat and the sound of his voice is not good. I would recommend the other Quartet West records, except for those looking for the vocal fix, wherein I would steer them away from Haden altogether. And too bad.
on November 3, 1999
Charlie Haden(bass and vocal)), Shirley Horn(vocals), Bill Henderson(vocals), Ernie Watts(tenor sax), Alan Broadbent(piano and arragements) and Larance Marable(drums, primarily sensitive brush work). This is music at its finest. If you like lyrical, medodic jazz, don't pass up this disk. Shirley Horn creates a spell with magical ballads that ooze perfect phrasing. Bill Henderson sings with a deftness and sensitivity that will take you over. Ernie Watts playing is flawlessly lyrical. Larance Marable's brush work is soft and tasteful. Charlie Haden will move you to tears when you hear him sing the final ballad on this CD. Alan Broadbent has arranged a Rachmaninoff piece for strings, bass...stunning. This is a CD for thoughtful, quiet times - it's beautifully rendered around themes that are timeless. If you want to be moved...if you want to hear music that's wonderfully moving on a number of levels...if you want to hear musical passion, thought and rare jazz genius realized, buy this CD!
on October 23, 1999
Charlie Haden- Quartet West The Art Of The Song (Verve 547403-2)
Now here's a man who is in love with the past. Haden seems to be able to bring out the magic in the songs of the past, predominantly the film musics of the thirties to the fifties. Quartet West (Haden- bass / Alan Broadbent-piano/ Ernie watts-tenor sax / Larance Marable-drums) have been around since about 1986,and have recorded a number of albums to date all of equal beauty and scope. This group pretty much allows Charlie Haden to work with standards and create a late night feel, if you like your jazz this way. On this release he works with Shirley Horn on four tracks, as well as Bill Henderson on four. The group sounds relaxed and laid back, with Ernie Watt's extended sax solos sounding as sweet as ever, while Marable's brush work on drums compliments the material covered. Haden of course is Mr Versatility, with material covered from Rachmaninov to Jerome Kern, Ravel, Jimmy van Heusen, to compositions by Haden himself and pianist Alan Broadbent. The strongest piece here is the beautiful tune by Jerome Kern The Folks Who Live On The Hill, which was originally featured in the film High,Wide and Handsome (1937), with stunning vocals by Horn. This is an intimate recording, with beautiful arrangements and delicate phrasings, and if you're not a stranger to the works of this outfit, then you'll like what you'll hear on this recording. Haden employs a chamber orchestra to accompany him on most number, heightening the emotional content of the pieces. Haden has such a vast history to his name as a bass player, and it's not for me to go over old territory. Just check out his resume in any number of jazz encyclopedias to realize how talented and experienced he really is. Just when I thought I was getting tired of jazz standards performed by quartets, I am reminded how graceful it can all be. As Haden says re this record "Good music lasts forever."
on August 8, 2001
Haden's pleasant miscellany of neglected but deserving ballads is indeed a mixed bag, but somehow his focus, purpose, and method elude this listener. Neophyte writers are frequently enjoined to compose with a sharp, definitive, unified "thesis." Haden could have used a bit of coaching along these lines before producing this collection. Even drawing upon a common composer (as opposed to ranging from Kern to Rachmaninoff to public domain) might have provided the needed coherence to the project.
In any case, it's always a welcome experience to hear Shirley Horn; the revival of a touching ballad like "In Love in Vain" merits our appreciation; and though I was never a big fan of Bill Henderson (an acquired taste), he deserves to be recorded based on the evidence of this recording.
In sum, this album is more than anything else a "sampler" and should have been priced accordingly.
on February 1, 2000
It took my listening to this cd two or three times before I fell completely in love with it. Yes, Haden and Shirley Horn are, as usual, A-plus. But the wonder for me on this cd is vocalist Bill Henderson who I had not heard-- or heard of --prior to this. Listen to him sing "Why Did I Choose You?" and "You My Love." This is a guy who loves lyrics -- and expressing them in song. C-l-e-a-r-l-y! Think Johnny Hartman with a little Nat King Cole and Mel Torme thrown in. And the arrangments and musicians backing him up are top-notch. Bill, get yourself into a recording studio and give us some more of the same. (Oh, and the criticism about this being an all-ballad cd is , as far as I'm concerned, just totally irrelevant.) It's a great cd of beautiful songs. 'Nuff said.
on April 14, 2001
I first heard of Charlie Haden on Dublin's best radio music show - The Mystery Train presented by John Kelly on RTE Radio 1. I bought this CD and it has never been off my current play list. This is beautiful music that touches the heart. Listen to Wayfaring Stranger, Lonely Town, I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out Of My Life, or Ruth's Walz after a tough day at the office or jammed in traffic and you will be back in touch with the good things in life. As someone who has evolved though Thin Lizzy, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Queen, U2, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, BB King, Grant Green etc, Charlie Haden is proof of my graduation. After since buying other and even better Haden CD's, I am looking forward to seeing him in concert with Quartet West here in Dublin on April 29. BUY IT NOW!
on August 7, 1999
A major disappointment for a big Quartet West fan. For any other group, this outing isn't at all bad. But Haden and Broadbent are taking themselves so seriously, they've forgotten that the lyricism, interplay and spontenaity of their previous albums is the source of this group's genius and artistry. Here, in this overproduced ego trip, everything including the album and song titles, jacket photo, ponderous orchestrations, re-arrangements of previous ideas, classical knockoffs, schmaltzy lyrics, unrelenting ennui, and Haden's own crooning crawl down Opry Lane smack of pretention and self-indulgence. I'm more than willing to allow it's totally sincere, but what's left? Even Ernie Watts is uninspired. Charlie, bring back the "old" Quartet West.