Back in 2001 (has it really been that long already?), bassist Charlie Haden released Nocturne
, his finest album since 1992’s Haunted Heart
. With a mostly Cuban crew - including Young Lion Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano and sax stud David Sanchez - Haden gave us 11 lush, languorous boleros
, kind of the Cuban version of the tango. That disc was a great hit, for all the right reasons: It contained excellent playing (including some by Texas tenor Joe Lovano and guitarist Pat Metheny), exposed listeners to some wonderful old traditionals most of us gringos probably had never heard before (and two beautiful new originals by Haden), and would have won the 2001 Grammy for "Best Date Disc," if the Grammies had such a category.
This past year, Haden and Rubalcaba returned to the studio (along with Lovano and percussionist Ignacio Berroa, also from Nocturne
) for a follow-up, Land of the Sun
, which focuses on works by Mexican bandleader-composer José Sabre Marroquin. Where Nocturne
was lusty - wet, even - Land of the Sun
is a much more arid affair. That’s not to say it’s not rich and romantic, but, where Cubans seem to focus on the light of love, Mexicans (or perhaps just Marroquin) apparently dwell more on the pain. Also, the boleros
seem to belong solely to the Cuban culture, whereas the music on Land of the Sun
is more informed by El Norte. There’s a definite pop sensibility to the new disc (which, you know, there’s nothing wrong with) and less of an instantly identifiable Latin feel. But then, Haden has always had a soft heart.
While I find Nocturne
to be superior, there’s much to recommend Land of the Sun
. I can’t get enough of Rubalcaba’s modern-yet-mellow piano playing or Lovano’s sweet and swaggering tenor. The percussionists contribute a delightfully laconic lope, and the two guitarists - Larry Koonse and Lionel Loueke - offer sultry warmth to many melodies, bringing to mind twilight on the hacienda. There’s also some wonderfully evocative orchestration, not to mention Haden’s penetrating bass; this master packs more emotion into each note than any other bassist I can think of.