Liberation in the Air
BETTER UNFETTERED: When the Liberation Music Orchestra (LMO) unveiled its bold new body of work, under the umbrella title Not in Our Name, at the 2004 Montreal Jazz Festival, all ears were listening and all eyes were watching. This was the moment when it appeared the Bush regime might be toppled and some semblance of order restored, in America and the world. At the end of an emotional and moving Montreal evening, leader Charlie Haden urged “anyone who has dual citizenship to get out and vote in November.” Alas, that November turned dark and right-leaning, and the nightmare continued in the House of W., and in the house of you and me.
Now, deep into the era of the lame duck and the McPain threat, the Liberation Music Orchestra brings this music to the Lobero Theatre on Saturday, in the most eagerly awaited jazz show of the season here. Call it a “rock the vote” effort from the jazz fringe (“jazz the vote?”). Not in Our Name came out on record in 2005, and various tours have gone down since then, but extra special attention attends this particular tour, working its way fortuitously to NYC’s Blue Note on election eve.
You may know Haden-first flung into public orbit in Ornette Coleman‘s groundbreaking late ’50s quartet-from any number of contexts. He previously appeared in the Lobero, for instance, with his lighter party band, Quartet West, and going back to Pat Metheny‘s “80/81” band, and the Ornette Coleman tribute band Old and New Dreams before that. People with no taste for or connection to jazz suddenly know Haden thanks to his newly released old-school C&W project Rambling Boy (Decca), by “Charlie Haden Family and Friends.” That gleaming list of family and friends includes triplet daughters Petra, Rachel, and Tanya, his son Josh (from the band Spain), son-in-law Jack Black (yes, that Jack Black), Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Ricky Scaggs, Jerry Douglas, and more. Haden had a hoedown in Nashville and connected with his deep roots, starting as a two-year-old yodeler on his family’s popular Iowan radio show in the late ’30s.
Fast forward to 1969, and Haden put his musical/political energies to good use, forming the Liberation Music Orchestra, which has subsequently recorded several albums. Arranger Carla Bley doesn’t get enough credit for her handiwork-it really should be called the Haden-Bley Liberation Music Orchestra. Her musical voice and vocabulary ring out on all the LMO albums, especially the latest. The album kicks off with Haden’s bittersweet title composition and meanders over a fascinating, and sometimes surprising, musical landscape. Fittingly, Ornette-that great American revolutionary and folk hero-is represented with “Skies of America,” and Bill Frisell‘s hypnotic and loopy dream anthem “Throughout” lights up the mix, as does a reworked “Amazing Grace,” and an inventive, clearly Bley-colored suite, “America the Beautiful (Medley).”
But wait, there’s more: The set also includes a disarmingly cool, reggae-ish version of “This is Not America,” written by Metheny and David Bowie for the film Falcon and the Snowman, and jazzed takes on a snippet of Anton-n DvoÅ¡k‘s New World Symphony (written for America, when the Czech composer lived in Haden’s home state of Iowa) and American composer Samuel Barber‘s classic “Adagio for Strings” to close.
All in all, Not in Our Name emerges with its paradoxical directives intact. Yes, a strong sense of rebellion, authority-questioning, and other signs of a “culture of protest” (to quote Dick Flacks‘s KCSB radio show title) are woven into the musical fabric and programming scheme. Yet this body of music-on-record, but even more so live-also makes for a strangely, powerfully patriotic listening experience.
Of course, we’re talking about patriotism of the other, deeper and more cultural, sort, far from the capitalistic, corporate-military-industrial complex. For an American listener, in particular, a certain genuine swelling of pride seems to be built up through the agency of music from this amazing country and its cultural life.