By Don Heckman
Pasadena CA. It was a night to remember. A jazz concert in a printing company. The machine-filled Castle Press in Pasadena, to be precise. With some of the performers positioned on a stage that consisted of a 460-ton printing press. Add to that the party-like atmosphere, with listeners scattered across folding chairs and bleacher seats, quaffing wine as they enjoyed the music and the unusual setting.
But what made last Monday’s program so special — beyond the remarkable location — was the announced presence of iconic bassist Charlie Haden. Teaming up with pianist Larry Goldings, he was performing a day after he had received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Recording Academy (the Grammys).
Haden was stricken with post-polio syndrome in 2010 (the consequence of a polio attack when he was 15). Beyond some jamming at home with Pat Metheny, he has performed rarely since 2011. And some audience members, aware of his physical maladies, apprehensively awaited his appearance as the climactic moment in the performance.
But there was no need to worry about the quality of Haden’s playing. He and Goldings only did one number, but they made the most of it. And it was a distinct pleasure to again hear the rich, dark timbres and melodic lyricism that have always been the uniquely appealing characteristics of Haden’s bass playing. Add to that his intimate musical dialog with Goldings, occasionally calling up his classic Jasmine recording with Keith Jarrett.
The evening’s program, presented by MUSE/IQUE, was titled Jazz Laid Down. In addition to Haden and Goldings, it featured the determinedly contemporary cross-over jazz of the electro-acoustic band TriTone Asylum. The six piece ensemble included Allen Mascari, tenor saxophone, Peter Sepsis, bass, Todd Wolf, drums, Jameson Trotter, piano, Andy Waddell, guitar, and Philip Topping, EVI.
And what, you might ask is an EVI? The initials stand for Electronic Valve Instrument. Although it contains its own synthesized sounds, it also can be used with sampled sounds, and is played with the same lip control and three-valve articulation of an acoustic trumpet.
Both the ensemble sound and the players’ interaction were impacted by the textures of Topping’s EVI playing. Blending the basic acoustic setting of a jazz quintet with the variable tones of the EVI, they brought some fascinating new views to such familiar jazz items as Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” Ralph Towner’s “Icarus” and Hampton Hawes “Sonora.” The latter item also served as accompaniment for a jazz-driven solo dance by Haylee Roderick.
Ultimately, however, it was Haden’s appearance that was the high point of this unusual evening. And one left with the hope that his impressive performance was an important step on his road to full recovery.
Photos by Ben Gibbs.