Charlie Haden / Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Land of the Sun

Charlie Haden / Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Land of the Sun

For accuracy, the present review’s title beats the marketing department heading very easily. Haden and Rubalcaba are big names, and certainly the latter makes no bones about wanting to get across the idea and the fact of melodic, slow, peace-deepening Mexican music. So their names are up there as a kind of lure.

I had suspected this might be a set of duets between these men, but in fact Haden is leader and Rubalcaba arranger, of a selection of Mexican songs. Marroquin was a close friend, I read, of the late violin virtuoso Henryk Szering, who may or may not have left recordings of Marroquin’s music. Any which existed would be interesting. Szering was a great European concert fiddler, and Mexico and Poland have had a long connection related not least to the Mexican provision of visas the US State Department was rather sluggish in granting to fugitives from Adolf Hitler. I am sure that loud and bad things about any country should also be heard, but thing less heard about and less heard are also worth the sort of work which went into this present recording.

The music is with little exception at slower tempo. I can’t think that any respectable set of major jazz players aimed at peace and restfulness, or any collection of slower things from all over, exceeds this set in instrumental restfulness (and there’s no singing! Other than the metaphorical on musical instruments not excluding those played by Haden or Rubalcaba.). It’s not at first easy to tell how many people are playing together in the ensembles, because Rubalcaba likes to make two or four wind instruments sound like more, without actually raising that much volume of loudness. The bigger the quiet sound, the deeper the peace. The timber (also the timbre) of Haden’s bass sounds out well after the ensemble which opens, hardly louder than Haden. Miguel Zenon doesn’t quite get the peace into his tone here, but his solo progressively tames his alto from its earnest beginning. Michael Rodriguez is said to play sometimes trumpet and sometimes flugelhorn, but the calmer more lyrical side of the latter remains to the fore. Larry Koonze and Lionel Loueke are listed as guitarists, but which of them solos on the second title, which is hornless, I don’t know. The third track is “Lullaby for Patricia” in its English translation, but lullaby seems a good word for the guitar music of the second title. Oriente Lopez is to the fore in the named lullaby, Rodriguez has a solo entry and we get to hear Haden’s resonant lyricism. I do like Rubalcaba’s measured accompaniment to Lopez’s jazz solo on this, and Rodriguez bringing out his full big tone as part of the emphasis on beauty and fullness of quiet sound. “Solamente Una Vez” follows with more don’t wake the baby. The players achieve a compelling hush. You can hear Haden’s full sound; the pianist seems to be working to that effect.

On “Nostalgia”, Joe Lovano is heard for the first time here, after an introduction from guitar and flugelhorn. There is a burr to his tone, a bit actually like Frank Foster, though yearning to sound more like Stan Getz.

“De Siempre” sounds like the full band, with minimal vibrato and much restraint. Zenon plays a softer solo than I’ve heard from him, dancing in the still and more like Lee Konitz. The very slow dance is continued by Rodriguez. Actually, the writing makes the ensemble sound like a full big band pianissimo.

“Anoranza” means “Longing”, and the yearning is expressed by flute and piano. The tune, whose title means “When Will I Forget You?”, combines flute and flugelhorn in some lovely harmonics, and each one solos before there’s Rubalcaba. There are some quiet electronic noises and good cause to mention, with honour, Ignacio Berroa’s use of drums and percussion, a department to which the pianist also contributes, for an added complexity in subtlety in which Juan de la Cruz’s bongo does take part.

“Yesterday I Heard the Rain” is an interesting title. You could hear rain behind much of this music, and on this title you can hear Joe Lovano sounding (as he does from time to time) like the great tenorist and all rounder the late Budd Johnson. Gentle. In “Cancion a Paola” there is the sound of a Latin dance band, but refined to a subtlety few ensembles attain to. Lovao is on his best from the date, on this the liveliest composition and performance. Rodriguez earns another laurel, and by the standards of this entire set the closer is almost rousing. You might be persuaded that what you heard before wasn’t all so quiet and slow, and melancholy and meditative. It was, which of course does reflect on the interest of this set. But if Haden thinks people ought to know this unemphatic side of Mexican music, there can be no doubt he also believes quite passionately they do need peace in their souls even more. Three titles list Marroquin’s grandson Criz Sabre as co-composer (Sabre contributes a memoir to the booklet, and there’s one by the composer’s daughter Patricia). One of the ten tunes is by Agustin Lara, rather than Marroquin, another by Armando Manzanero. This is still the music of the late Jose Sabre Marroquin. I can’t find his dates on the booklet.