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The Montreal Tapes: Tribute to Joe Henderson by Charlie Haden

I fear it would be sacrilege to write anything but a review full of nothing but praise for a live album by Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson and Al Foster. The Montreal Tapes is a CD release of a 1989 concert from the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and while I would hesitate to say that each of the participants are at top form, this is certainly worth hearing for its concept as a posthumously released tribute to Henderson.

The fidelity of the recording is poor. As a result, it sounds at points as if Foster is playing on another stage, in another time zone. Also, far from rendering the experience more "authentic" the audience coughs and inadvertent noises are distracting. If the band itself were more audible and front and center in the mix, this would be fine. But when you’re straining to simply hear the soloist, nothing is more annoying than an audience member coughing near the recording microphone. With that said, it’s obvious that this recording was never meant to see commercial release and was likely recorded for archival purposes by « La Chaîne culturelle » of the Société Radio-Canada. It’s a shame that such a performance couldn’t be rendered more faithfully to disc.

Despite the technical glitches, the disc opens with Henderson playing an incredibly haunting and dirge-like take on the head to Monk’s "Round Midnight." The atmosphere is incredibly airy and sparse throughout the entire tune. The tune never so much as begins as it proceeds in continual fade. The mystery and the beauty is how Henderson is able to keep the audience engrossed throughout the entire tune despite (or because of) this. Haden and Foster provide no more than color to Henderson’s lead. There is no drive, there is no rhythm section; Henderson is simply on display. It’s a transparent and incredibly engaging performance.

"All the Things You Are" is the low point of the four-track recording. The take on this tune is incredibly standard, with Foster perhaps providing the most interesting moments merely through his ability to accent the tune on his ride in a counterintuitive way that seems to work. Henderson takes few chances with the chorus, staying very close to the tune and the changes.

In the liner notes, Haden suggest that "In the Moment," the disc’s third track was done at the urging of Henderson to do something in the vein of Haden’s work with Ornette Coleman. The only member of the trio truly taking any chances improvisationally on this track is Haden, though. Henderson still plays it close to the vest, though he is wont to a fit of Coltrane-esque sheets as well as the more occasional shriek and squeal. Haden is very much in control however, driving the tune and leading Henderson into his few moments of true experimentation.

Though the disc is listed with Charlie Haden as the leader on this date, it’s difficult to listen to this without thinking of Joe Henderson heading the group. His liquid tone steers the group through each tune, navigating and clearing the path. This is an excellent performance, but a poor recording. Perhaps for diehard fans of Henderson, Haden or Foster only.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Charlie Haden
  • CD Title: The Montreal Tapes: Tribute to Joe Henderson
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Verve
  • Tracks: Round Midnight, All the Things You Are, In the Moment, Passport
  • Musicians: Charlie Haden (bass), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Al Foster (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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