All in the Family

by Andrew Elias

Charlie Haden was a member
of Ornette Coleman's early

groudbreaking bands.

The Haden Triplets CD was
released on Jack White’s
Thirdman Records label

Petra Haden's CD, Petra Goes
to the Movies is a collection of
mostly a cappella versions
of classic movie themes.

Joshua Haden, a bassist like
his father, is three years
older than his sisters
Tanya, Petra and Rachel.

CHARLIE HADEN IS one of the founding fathers of jazz. Any list of the greatest jazz bassists of all time would have to include his name. He was a member of Ornette Coleman’s early bands and also played and recorded with a wide variety of musicians for more than 60 years – from Art Pepper, Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett to Pat Methany, Jan Garbarek and Jim Hall, with whom he has recently released his last recording. Haden passed this past July. Hall passed six months earlier.

Their new album, simply titled Charlie Haden / Jim Hall, is a recording of the historic concert with the guitarist at the 1990 Montreal Jazz Festival. The musicianship is astounding, an intimate sonic dance between two artists at the height of their game. The set includes jazz standards ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Skylark, more adventurous covers of Coleman’s ‘Turnaround’ and Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing, plus two originals each from Haden and Hall. The music travels through chamber, bop and Latin jazz. For the most part, it’s intimate and bluesy, tasteful and straight-ahead jazz, but there are several moments of real excitement and an undeniable electricity between these two that makes the concert – and now the recording – so memorable

Charlie Haden’s album was released shortly after his daughters, triplets, released their debut recording as a group. Although each has had successful musical careers of their own, The Haden Triplets, is the first time they’ve recorded all together. Although the music is not like their father’s jazz, it is still very much influenced and inspired by his catalogue. They have learned well the essence and nuance of the same music of their father and grandparents, who were a popular country & western act in the mid-west mid-century. Their sound is steeped in the Appalachian mountain music and southern Gospel music traditions, as well as country & western music. And who better to help them create this Americana soundscape than Ry Cooder, guitarist and musicologist extraordinaire. Cooder achieves a stark sound, both raw and crisp, that captures the emotional closeness of the sisters’ remarkable voices, adding minimal musical embellishment to their testimony.

Like the sirens calling in the Coen Brothers’ film O’ Brother, Where Art Thou, the sisters (Tanya, Rachel & Petra) sing the most gorgeous and tender harmonies. Melancholy yet alluring, sweet and soulful.

The collection includes covers of songs by Webb Pierce, the Louvin Brothers, Ralph Stanley, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, and The Carter Family, among others, as well as my favorite track, Nick Lowe’s ‘Raining, Raining.’ Lest you think the album is all sad songs, rest assured that they are never depressing and always entertaining. The album is a celebration of, as much as an homage to, particularly personal music of a bygone era, seemingly so long ago and far away yet no less honest and true today. It should make their dad and grandparents proud.

Petra Haden released her 5th solo album in 2013. Petra Goes to the Movies is a collection of mostly a cappella versions of classic movie themes from popular films like Rebel Without a Cause, Psycho, Taxi Driver, Cool Hand Luke, and Tootsie to acclaimed indie films like Cinema Paradisio, Big Night, Bagdad Café. and 8 1/2. The album, like her previous release, Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out, showcases her stunning voice and inventive vocal arrangements. Here she adds accompaniment on two songs, with pianist Brad Mehldau and guitarist Bill Frisell joining her on one song each. Petra is a vocalist’s vocalist: a marvelous technician, inspired artist and creative explorer.

Their younger brother, Josh, a bassist like his dad, also recently released an album this year, Sargent Place, with his band Spain. It is Spain’s 6th album, and has garnered the same kind of praise from critics and fans as the others. Josh Haden’s music also contains the music chromosomes of the Haden family musical DNA. Spain’s music draws from all those traditions and genres, creating a modern, very 21st century hybrid pop music.

Spain’s music has been called ‘alternative’ or ‘adult’ or ‘indie’ rock. Those general and flexible terms are too often used to describe music that just can’t be easily categorized because it’s original and smart yet accessible and rhythmic. In that case, I guess that fits Spain just fine.

The songs on Sargent Place are spiritual and romantic and Haden’s vocals are smoky and sexy and smooth, with a charming vulnerability. ‘It Could Be Heaven’ and ‘To Be a Man’ are standouts, as is the beautiful and fitting, ‘You and I,’ which features Charlie Haden. It was the last piece of music his dad recorded. Charlie must be a proud papa. •

November-December 2014