Strength of Strings

Charlie Haden and Quartet West. At the Lobero Theatre, Wednesday, November 29.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Charlie-Haden-Web.jpgCharlie Haden radiates a rare kind of strength, and from the warm reception he and his Quartet West received at the Lobero last Wednesday, Santa Barbara knows it. Whatever the connections that make Haden such a favorite in our town, this special affection was in ample evidence from the opening notes of his packed show.

Few players of any instrument can boast of an emotional expressiveness as profound as Charlie Haden’s. He shone on every number, managing to uncover something new in each of his gorgeous solos. Standing on a riser and bathed in a soft spotlight, Haden returned again and again to the middle register of his bass for an astonishing range of melodic runs and arpeggios. It’s not just the tone with Haden; it’s the sense of spirituality — the offering in the moment — that animates his every note and separates him from even the best of his peers.

And what peers he has assembled for Quartet West! Ernie Watts was fantastic on tenor sax, seemingly telepathic in his rapport with the rhythm section, and possessing a clarity of tone that cut through every time he stepped to the microphone. Rodney Green is the most gifted young drummer to grace a Santa Barbara stage this year. His brushwork was especially sensitive in the whisper-quiet sections he shared with Haden. And pianist Alan Broadbent very nearly stole the show. Taking the Lobero’s brand-new concert grand piano for its maiden voyage, Broadbent was like an epic explorer of new musical worlds.

Ornette Coleman’s classic 1957 composition “Lonely Woman,” which is perhaps the finest, most elemental, and explicitly moving modernist ballad in the entire jazz songbook, has been reworked to feature Broadbent, and the result is quite amazing. The irony here — that Coleman’s original had no piano — can hardly be lost on any jazz fan, but the result is a lot more than ironic. Broadbent’s solo took us cascading over a waterfall of music that called to mind Rachmaninoff as much as Ellington, and was one of the many highlights of this, one of the very best concerts of 2006.

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