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Charlie Haden's Liberation Jazz Orchestra at the San Francisco Jazz Festival

During his long and varied career jazz bassist Charlie Haden has had many collaborations ranging from his duet with Ornette Coleman on the classic album "Soapsuds, Soapsuds" to pianist Keith Jarrett (with whose American Trio he performed) to guitarist Pat Metheny to tango musicians. But Charlie's Liberation Jazz Orchestra holds a special place in his distinguished career.

The group came together during the 1960s and debuted with its self-titled Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969. It featured classic musicians, including the late Dewey Redman, Jim Pepper, and Don Cherry, as well as the still prominent Paul Motian, Roswell Rudd, and Gato Barbieri.

The album's inspiration came after Haden heard songs from the Spanish Civil War. While on tour in Portugal in 1971, Haden dedicated his "Song for Che" in support of the revolutionary movements operating in the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. The next day, the Portuguese secret police interrogated him, and the FBI later interrogated him as well.

The next album, "Ballad of the Fallen," was released in 1983. Down Beat magazine's 1984 critic's poll named it "jazz album of the year". Similarly, 1990s "Dream Keeper," was voted "jazz album of the year" in 1991. The most recent recording, a CD this time, is "Not in Our Name," which features many of the performers to be appear at this performance.

Unfortunately for fans of the composer Carla Bley, she was unable to make the gig, as she was stuck in Brazil. A Quartet West-member, the Kiwi-born Alan Broadbent was able to fill Carla's twin roles of pianist and conductor. This performance also featured Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on tenor saxes, Miguel Zenon on alto, Michael Rodriguez and Seneca Black on trumpet, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Vicente Chancey on French horn, Joe Daley on tuba, Steve Cardenas on guitar, and Matt Wilson on drums.

After an introduction by legendary radio-show host and engineer Jim Bennett, the band took the stage. Charlie, speaking to the audience, told us that his first record had come at a time of "great political upheaval." With regard to Iraq, he maintained that "It was not a war. It was an invasion. And now it is an occupation."

With that, the group launched into "Not in Our Name" During the course of the show (which stretched for around two hours including the encore), everyone had the opportunity to solo. Particularly outstanding were Curtis Fowlkes and Charlie Haden's solos on "Amazing Grace", which were complimented by beautiful playing by the entire ensemble.

Broadbent's solo piano opened the stellar, extended "America the Beautiful," which featured an outstanding solo by drummer Matt Wilson, known for his work with pianist Matthew Shipp and others, as well as a lovely solo by Vincent on the French horn, an instrument which should be used more in jazz ensembles. As with other tunes, members of the ensemble would leave the stage periodically during solos and then re-enter. Solos were flanked by ensemble playing.

During the encore, "We Shall Overcome," the group started chanting "Barack Obama" in the tune's middle - an event which came as a surprise to this reviewer, given that Obama’s conservative positions stand in stark contrast to the ensemble’s avowedly leftist posturing. A standing ovation followed.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Charlie Liberation Music Orchestra
  • Venue: Herbst Theater
  • City State Country: San Francisco, CA, USA
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