Charlie Haden: The Ballad Of The Fallen (ECM 1248)

 

Charlie Haden
The Ballad Of The Fallen

Charlie Haden bass
Carla Bley piano, glockenspiel, arrangements
Don Cherry pocket trumpet
Sharon Freeman French horn
Mick Goodrick guitar
Jack Jeffers tuba
Michael Mantler trumpet
Paul Motian drums, percussion
Jim Pepper tenor, soprano saxophones, flute
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone
Steve Slagle alto, soprano saxophones, clarinet, flute
Gary Valente trombone
Recorded November 1982, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Don’t ask me who I am
Or if you knew me
The dreams that I had
Will grow even though I’m no longer here.

Jazz is a music of oppression, or rather about resisting it. As such, it has the potential to liberate listeners—and, perhaps more importantly, performers—in ways that few other genres can. Which is precisely the paradox of the purist: in order to get to the heart of jazz, one must shut up and feel it. Intellectualizing just gets in the way. Charlie Haden is a purist, but it took him years to achieve that title, and his Liberation Music Orchestra represents a coming into his own as a musician, as a human being, as a force of peace and respect.

The LMO took shape at a time of upheaval. The Vietnam War was coming to a head, and the taste it seems to have left in Haden’s mouth could only be washed out with music. Through his sporadic activities with the LMO (the collective has averaged only one album per decade since its inception in the late 1960s), Haden now had a voice with which to purge widening circles of listeners of the warmongering and corruption he saw all around him until, hopefully, those circles began to touch. It was the voice of those who could not speak except through histories, a voice honed in the communal spirit that breathes through every note he’s played since.

Haden never chose his material in the authorial sense; the politics chose him. By the time of The Ballad Of The Fallen, the Reagan administration was pouring military spending into Central America, where Contra death squads left tens of thousands dead and corrupted countless others by covertly sponsoring dictatorial regimes and, by extension, their drug cartels. This brings us to Haden’s purism in another sense: as a onetime narcotics addict long since sober, he knew well the dangers of letting go of music’s hand. And so, through this second recording he and the LMO inscribed a poem of mourning for those who lost their lives in such conflicts, as well in the Spanish Civil War, for he might very well have become an indirect casualty had he not been awakened. Such motivations were never a gimmick in Haden’s hands, and the balanced arrangements, courtesy of Carla Bley, speak to (and for) hearts and minds committed to outreach.

“Els Segadors” (The Reapers), a song of revolt from the Spanish Civil War that would later become an anthem for the Catalan Republic, begins with a somber elegy for brass, which then flowers with the introduction of a funereal snare and glockenspiel. With this somber tone set, the heartrending El Salvadorean song that makes up the title track finds ground in Haden alongside Motian’s drums and the acoustic guitar of Mick Goodrick. The words it only hints at were discovered on the body of a student protester, who along with others died by military hands during a university sit-in. After two darkly lit marches, each insightful horn solo therein a message in a tarnished bottle, we arrive at “Introduction To People.” Bley’s first of two contributions to the album has the sweep of some of the early Arild Andersen quartets and is only enhanced by her rolling pianism and Haden’s ever-pellucid bass. Her second piece is “Too Late,” a pensive duet for piano and bass that frays into majestic horns. It is also the session’s heartbeat.

The Chilean freedom fighters’ anthem “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” lifts us upon a delicate floating carpet of horns, who continue to emote in the heavier “Silence” (Haden’s sole composition and among the session’s more powerful) that follows. In this chain of four-step phrases, we find ourselves lost in the memory of that which we can never know. Goodrick spins chant-like threads throughout “La Pasionaria,” suspended like stars while Dewey Redman plots his tenor along less determinable trajectories. Bley’s keys whip like a sidewinder through this rare breath of hope while Haden emotes as nowhere else. The Catalonian song “La Santa Espina” reprises the martial feeling with which the album began and breaks into a powerful reinstatement from brass.

This is a continuous suite of moods drifting through a passage in foliated time. The album’s resignations are palpable at every turn, each inhaling mourning and exhaling hope. This is death and memory, rebirth and diffusion, the flame of a forgotten past kept alive in the cavity of an unparalleled instrument and its practitioner.

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