The Jazz.com Blog
October 02, 2008 · 3 comments
Generally jazz fans don’t pay much attention to country music. But jazz.com may need to set up a satellite operation in Nashville, since 2008 is proving to be the year when jazz music got countrified.
A few weeks ago, when Wynton Marsalis released a CD with Willie Nelson, I commented in this space on how rarely jazz players mix with their country cousins. I pointed out a few precedents, such as Louis Armstrong’s 1930 recording with Jimmie Rodgers and the Western Swing of Bob Wills. One could add a few more names to the list, highlighting the country-inflected recordings of Bill Frisell, Gary Burton, Ray Charles, Cassandra Wilson and others.
But these tend to be rare exceptions. Most jazz musicians will cross the street to avoid encountering anyone wearing a cowboy hat. Like the Blues Brothers, their country repertoires begin and end with the “Theme from Rawhide” . . . or maybe don't begin at all. If you don't believe me, just try requesting a Merle Haggard song on your next visit to the Village Vanguard.
But it looks like this is starting to change. On the heels of the Marsalis-Nelson collaboration, Charlie Haden has released a country music album. Rambling Boy features “family and friends.” In the former category, we need to include the three Haden triplets, Rachel, Petra and Tanya Haden, their brother Josh, as well as Charlie’s son-in-law (and husband of Tanya) Jack Black. (Mr. Black, I am told, has done something or other in the movie industry.) Quite a bit of talent in the family, but the deck has been stacked with a few “visitors of note.” These include Pat Metheny, Elvis Costello, Bruce Hornsby, Roseanne Cash and Vince Gill, to name some names.
What’s the bottom line on this jazz-meets-country release? First, I need to advise you that there is very little jazz on this CD. If this were a wedding, the country bride would be left stranded at the altar, while the jazzy groom has gone back to the big city. A tiny dose of jazz is added at the rarest of intervals—mostly when Pat Metheny kicks in with his chords-as-open-as-the-heartland-sky. (You are advised to check out "He's Gone Away," featured currently as Song of the Day on jazz.com.) But if you are waiting for hot licks over “I Got Rhythm” changes, you will want to skip this CD.
But here is the good news. This is an exceptional roots music CD. If jazz is in short supply on the tracks, the assembled players make up for it with a double helping of bluegrass, folk, Americana, and gospel sounds, along with old-time country. And I mean old, old time. This is country music more akin to the Carter Family than to Garth Brooks or Randy Travis. Perhaps the closest comparison I could make is to Will the Circle Be Unbroken, released by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in 1972, but with a sense of style more appropriate to 1932. Charlie Haden has done the same here, surprising us with a CD that is several galaxies apart from his path-breaking work with Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and others.
Even a jaded jazz guy like me got caught up in the excitement. And I don’t think I will be alone. I have a hunch that this will be a big seller, and one of the most popular recordings of Mr. Haden’s long career.
For more info, check out Stuart Nicholson's interview with Charlie Haden, published today on jazz.com. Here Haden gives more details about his early, little-known background in country music, and talks about his new project.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia