Quick, count the number of bassists you know who have led memorable jazz bands; if you have to use more than one hand to keep track, you're ahead of the game. By virtue of the role bass plays in jazz, bass players are usually thought of as part of the supporting cast rather than as leaders. There are, of course, exceptions -- Charles Mingus and Ron Carter come to mind -- but they're few and far between.
Count Charlie Haden among the exceptions. As a member of the legendary Ornette Coleman Quartet, he was an integral part of the free jazz movement of the early 1960s, being one of the first players to break from the Jimmy Blanton style of bass playing. Haden has been an in-demand sideman for decades, and he boasts a 40-year resume that includes -- among countless other entries -- work with Art Pepper, Hampton Hawes, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Joe Henderson, Hank Jones and Pat Metheny.
As a band leader, Haden assembled a group that produced some of the most memorable recordings in modern jazz. His Liberation Music Orchestra was responsible for one of jazz's few protest albums, the eponymous Liberation Music Orchestra, and it's rightly considered a classic. If that wasn't enough, in 1989 Haden led a series of eight concerts at the Montreal International Jazz Festival that have so far generated four recordings dubbed The Montreal Tapes. (The third and fourth installments of that series were released late last month.) And Haden's recent duet work with Pat Metheny (Beyond the Missouri Sky, a compelling and provocative tribute to the Midwest) and Hank Jones (Steal Away, a collection of hymns, spirituals and folk songs) have received both critical acclaim and Grammy nominations.
Haden came up with the idea of Quartet West in 1987. The combo, which features Los Angeles-based musicians Ernie Watts, Alan Broadbent and Larance Marable, is conceptually different from most small jazz groups. Inspired by the atmosphere of the film noirs of the 1940s, Quartet West has devised a repertoire that includes a number of songs from that period. The group is appearing in Houston in support of its latest release, Now Is the Hour, which revamps classics such as "All Through the Night," "Detour Ahead" and "Blue Pearl," while augmenting the proceedings with stunning string arrangements by Alan Broadbent. To re-create the lush backdrop of the recording, the Houston Ballet Orchestra will perform with the ensemble for a portion of the concert.
While Quartet West also plays modern compositions, all of its material evokes the feel of a bygone era, as if the band had been transported to the present via some jazz-crazed time machine. Yet despite -- or, perhaps because of -- its concept, the group manages to sound remarkably fresh.
-- Paul MacArthur
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Charlie Haden's Quartet West performs at 8 p.m. Friday, January 30, at the Wortham Center. Tickets are $21 to $41. For info, call 524-5050 or 629-3700.
Silver Scooter -- Austin's Silver Scooter allows even the most melodically stunted pit dweller the chance to appreciate a catchy chorus without having to feel compromised. How? By rocking harder than many punk bands, especially live. The trio came together in 1995, a time when Texas was seriously wanting for quality indie pop. Silver Scooter's been rolling along smoothly ever since, its melodic sincerity and garage-rock intensity propelling the group into the good graces of ubiquitous -- and exceedingly generous -- Austin producers John Croslin and Dave McNair. The latter recently saw the band through its first full-length studio CD, The Other Palm Springs, which topped many Austin critics' "Best of '97" lists. Also on the Rudyard's bill are Clouded and the Linoleum Experiment, easily Houston's most capable noise-pop savants. Indeed, Texas's future in this hook-happy subgenre is looking brighter every day. At 10:30 p.m. Saturday, January 31, at Rudyard's British Pub, 2010 Waugh. Cover is $5. 521-0521. (Hobart Rowland)
Black Tape for a Blue Girl -- On first listen, Black Tape for a Blue Girl could be mistaken for the kind of music played in the waiting rooms of many holistic massage centers. Blending electronics with cello, harmonium, guitar and violin, Sam Rosenthal and band weave ambient soundscapes with evocative titles such as "Remnants of a Deeper Purity" and "Wings Tattered, Fallen." While Rosenthal describes his lyrics as "melodramatic [like] Nietzsche or Artaud," the music, which he's dubbed "darkwave," is often understated; an unaccompanied cello, for example, might play a long, repetitive line before eventually bleeding into a rush of electronic sound. Rosenthal originally started Black Tape's Projekt label as an outlet for his own recording. These days, though, the Chicago-based imprint boasts upward of 70 titles from like-minded bands. With its minimal percussion, tons of atmosphere and depressing lyrics, Black Tape may not be for everyone. But who's to say it's not for you? On Wednesday, February 4, at the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7. 863-7173. (Seth Hurwitz