The bass player explains with extreme simplicity in the liner notes, "Several years ago, I told [pianist] Gonzalo [Rubalcaba] that some day I would like to record an album of Cuban ballads (boleros) with him. The songs chosen for this recording are those that I feel are among the most beautiful that I have heard of that musical tradition." And indeed, this is just what Haden, Rubalcaba, and a small cadre of guest artists provide (Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, and David Sanchez all take a bow). Haden's approach to these eight Cuban standards and three originals (with a similar feel) is curiously like his writing style above - economic, without ornamentation, and with unaffected sincerity. The true accomplishment of this recording is that he finds a sympathetic set of musicians with which to carry out his goal: technically accomplished enough to navigate the rhythmic complexities of such unhurried and no-place-to-hide style sauntering, but mature enough to make technical accomplishments subservient to musical ones.
From the first plaintive bars of the melancholy "En la Orilla del Mundo," Gonzalo Rubalcaba's piano unostentatiously places the melody on its feet, after which Federico Britos Ruiz's violin draws it across a lonely night sky. Then, in an almost indiscernible moment, Joe Lovano's saxophone replaces the violin and makes the melody whole. There is no showy handoff, no self-gratification, and no one-upsmanship - there are simply musicians in a sparse but steady-voiced dialogue. Because of this constant understated rapport, this subtle sense of support, it allows for a direct statement of melody, and these are sturdy enough to require extremely little embellishment. Much credit should be given here to minimalist drummer Ignacio Berroa, whose brushed bolero rolls on the snare keep the momentum attached to its Cuban roots, and provide an implied sort of guide for us Americanos, jaunty footprints on which to hang these gorgeous melodies.
So certainly beauty is a beast not only rare but sometimes seemingly endangered, though if in Ornette Coleman's sixties it could only be found by freeing jazz then that is because jazz should always have been free in the first place - free to spy on, chew on, and finally swallow as many influences, rhythms and instruments as it can get its hands on. Strange then that it sometimes takes a gringo from the Ozarks playing a set of boleros to remind us of this, and stranger still that he should do it with such emotion, clarity, and quiet resolve.