Released posthumously, these gorgeously lush recordings serve as a fine tribute to the late Charlie Haden.
Far from the fiery revolutionaries pictured on the cover of the group’s first, self-titled recording, the 21st-century incarnation of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra offers a far more musically laidback approach to their political activism. On Time/Life, Haden’s cause célèbre is, as the album’s subtitle indicates, “the whales and other beings". Originating in 2007, the project came about as a response to Haden’s growing concern over the state of the environment. Working with Bley and the members of the Liberation Music Orchestra, Haden set about working on what he hoped to be the group’s next album. Sadly, it was not to be.
Representing some of the last recordings made before he died in 2014 of post-polio syndrome, Time/Life is bookended by two 2011 live performances -- Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” and Haden’s composition, 1979’s “Song for the Whales” -- on which Haden’s inimitable artistry on the double bass shines through. Captured at the Jazz Middelheim Festival in Antwerp, Belgium, the performances were part of a long-running warm-up for what was going to be the next Liberation Music Orchestra album. And while they ultimately made their way to just such an album, they, unfortunately, did so posthumously.
By bookending the album with these performances, Haden’s singular instrumental voice is afforded the chance to be both the first and last thing listeners hear. Speaking at the end of “Blue in Green", the effects of his post-polio syndrome can be heard in his weakened, but no less enthusiastic voice as he introduces his band for one last time. It’s a fitting tribute and a lovely, touching moment on an album full of them.
The three remaining tracks are penned by long-time Liberation Music Orchestra member and arranger Carla Bley. And while Haden’s name is in the title, it’s Bley’s deftly sympathetic arrangements that carry the day. She has long been a defining, driving force in modern jazz and its clear from her work here that she was able to tap into the long-standing relationship with many of the players involved to pick up where Haden sadly left off. The elegiac “Time/Life” offers a beautiful transition out of a stellar reading of “Blue in Green", the two flowing seamlessly into one another despite a difference of time and head personnel.
Similarly, “Silent Spring” offers an extended, ruminative nylon string acoustic guitar introduction that gently flows into yet another affecting Bley arrangement built around hushed tones and emotive solo statements. Given the cohesion of their respective artistic visions, Haden’s absence on these three tracks, while felt, is less jarringly noticeable than most posthumous collections of existing work. Much of the credit for this is due to bassist Steve Swallow, Bley’s longtime partner and musical collaborator and himself something of a legendary figure within the world of modern and avant-garde jazz. Without calling attention to himself, Swallow quietly steps into Haden’s shoes, providing a similarly sympathetic bottom end to Bley’s compositions.
In all, Time/Life offers beautifully subdued and reverential playing, each performance at once a nod to Haden’s “whales and other beings” as well as the late bassist himself. Far from funereal, the album serves as more of a contemplative meditation on the music and life of one of the giants of the jazz world. An excellent recording and a fitting tribute to the legacy of Charlie Haden.