Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny

Michael Ullman reviews Beyond the Missouri Sky Verve by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny.

Published April 18, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

BASSIST Charlie Haden and guitarist Pat Metheny like to explain their musical affinity by pointing to their home state of Missouri, their common musical experiences and their long history together. They met in 1973 when Metheny, then 18, approached Haden after the bassist played a concert with Ornette Coleman. By 1980, Metheny was a fusion star who was still interested in Coleman: He invited Haden to make a record with him that year that featured a fresh look on Ornette's blues. Two songs, "Turnaround" and "Two Folk Songs," written by Metheny and Haden respectively, illustrated the profound lyricism and country charm of both players.

They both love songs of all kinds. But their experiences do differ. Haden, the elder, started his career singing with his family's country band over the radio. Metheny grew up listening to bebop and the Beatles. Both have been influenced by Hispanic music; Haden by the weightier, dignified music of Spain itself, and Metheny by the breezy murmurings of Brazilian pop. Metheny has written his own countryish songs from the heartland, as he likes to call his home state, while in the last few years Haden has found a new repertoire in the country music, movie music and pop songs he heard as a child. Haden's playing is centered, strong; Metheny's lyricism is blithe, sweet-tempered and, at times, nostalgic.

In the duets of "Beyond the Missouri Sky," the two play a repertoire chosen mostly by Haden that might seem surprising to fans who think of him as an avant-gardist, especially if they forget his early "country" solo on Coleman's "Ramblin'." (Still, Haden wasn't always so open: I remember an occasion in the '70s when Coleman was asked to play "Happy Birthday" for the bartender of the Jazz Workshop in Boston. Coleman complied cheerily, but Haden refused to play and, indeed, stood staring sourly in the general direction of the bar.) In memory of Haden's parents, the two play a country hit from the '30s by the Delmore Brothers, "Precious Jewel," which Metheny overdubs, and the achingly simple traditional song "He's Gone Away," which Metheny plucks on acoustic guitar. (Its lyrics include the lines: "It's papa who ties my shoe/And mama who gloves my hand/And you will kiss my ruby lips/When he is gone.") Haden wrote a touching waltz for his wife, Ruth, and the two play his "Our Spanish Love Song," which sounds like another folk song. Henry Mancini's "Two for the Road" is more conventionally jazzy, if no more likely to appeal to fans of the avant-garde.

Haden commemorates his continuing affection for
the movies with two selections that Ennio
Morricone wrote for "Cinema Paradiso." The
recorded sound is fine: I have rarely heard Haden's
big-toned bass sound so strong and natural.
Artfully played but unpretentious, with its
appealing songs and strongly lyrical solos, this
disc should appeal to anyone who isn't afraid of a
little country charm in a jazz context.

By Michael Ullman

Michael Ullman is a jazz writer and lecturer in the music department of Tufts University.

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