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Artist: Charlie Haden + Brad Mehldau
Performance date: August 20, 2002
Publication: New York Times
A Slow Bass Joins a Piano In Quiet Tumult


Since he emerged more than 40 years ago, the bassist Charlie Haden has excelled in plain-spoken lyricism. In a solo break he'll play his thick, rounded notes in a slow, scale-based procession; what he's doing will seem ingenuous, almost na´ve, until at a certain point its beauty clicks in. The moving line is often backed by a drone note -- he loves playing his open bottom string -- and the sound recalls the slow, deliberate movement of notes, as well as the bottom-end drone, in white Appalachian gospel music. There is a strong, rousing dose of anti-technique in it, the human touch.

At the Blue Note on Friday night, toward the end of a two-week run at the club to celebrate his 65th birthday, Mr. Haden performed with the pianist Brad Mehldau. More and more in recent years, since the onset of tinnitus, Mr. Haden has been performing in duos. They tend to be quiet, dream-state jobs. Mr. Mehldau -- 30 years younger -- is well suited to the situation, as he likes quiet tumult: he seems most in his element floating out of tempo, moving a melodic cell up and down, trying to erase any element of showy corniness in the rhetoric of jazz performance.

On Friday he seemed to want to go further: to limit his own sometimes rapturous legato, and fuse with Mr. Haden's plain-spokenness. In ''Get Happy,'' which has lately been a great, energetic peak of Mr. Mehldau's performances with his own trio, he let his notes sound dry and unaffected; they fell like petals.

That song, and the set's closer, Ornette Coleman's ''When Will the Blues Leave?,'' were the closest that the music came to resembling midtempo, but after the opening themes, the songs nearly evaporated in their delicacy. The rest of the songs were romantic ballads; both musicians set about reaching into their organization of notes and chords to find what sort of inward honesty lay there.

The set was a kind of aural portrayal of humility. (We will hear more when ''American Dreams,'' an album that sets Mr. Haden and Mr. Mehldau against jazz players and orchestras, comes out this fall.) And Mr. Haden seemed to confirm that when he thanked the audience -- in a soft, high, trembling voice -- for listening so intently.

Published: 08 - 20 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 5 , Page 5


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