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Liberation Music Orchestra

liberation-music-orchEight years ago I was fortunate enough to be at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village to hear Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra on the night of the US presidential election, and then again the following night after it had been confirmed that Barack Obama would be serving as America’s first black president. The anxious optimism of the first night and the joy and relief of the second could hardly have formed a greater contrast with the current mood of the world, in which the orchestra — minus Charlie, who died two years ago, and now directed by his long-time collaborator Carla Bley — arrived in London to play at Cadogan Hall as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

I don’t think I was the only one to find their music even more emotionally charged than usual, which is saying something for a band that began life in 1969 delivering an uncompromising musical protest against the evils of the age, with a line-up including Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri and Roswell Rudd. Tonight’s 90-minute set maintained the tradition by concentrating on the concerns of the hour and consisted of material from their last two studio recordings: Not in My Name (2004) and the new Time/Life (Song for the Whales and Other Beings), the environmental album on which they were working before Haden’s death, and which was completed under Bley’s supervision. All of it resonated powerfully.

The new pieces included Bley’s beautifully plain arrangement of “Blue in Green”, her own “Silent Spring” and Haden’s “Song for the Whales”, which featured a lovely passage for Seneca Black’s trumpet, Tony Malaby’s tenor saxophone, Darak Oles’s double bass and Matt Wilson’s drums. Bill Frisell’s gorgeous, slow-burning “Throughout” made a lovely encore. The evening was sprinkled with fine solos from Malaby and his fellow tenorist Chris Cheek, Loren Stillman on alto, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Marshall Gilkes on trombone, Vincent Chauncey on French horn, Earl McIntyre on tuba and Steve Cardenas on guitar. Oles, who perhaps had the hardest gig of the night, did the right thing by playing Haden’s parts and evoking his spirit without trying to be him.

But the heart of the concert came in the long, carefully wrought medley of “America the Beautiful”, “Lift Every Heart and Sing” and Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America”, and particularly in the arrangement of “Amazing Grace” to which Bley brings every bit of her great and precious expertise at making highly schooled musicians sound like the world’s greatest town brass band. As they played it, investing every note with humanity, I couldn’t help thinking of Obama’s sudden decision, during his address to the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a US senator, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June last year, to sing the song as part of his eulogy to the priest and the eight other victims murdered by a white supremacist during a Bible study class. It’s a different world now.

* Time/Life is out now on the Impulse label.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. hamertheframer #

    Thanks Richard. A beautiful night. America The Beautiful. I particularly loved Song For The Whales and imagined I saw Charlie again with Don Cherry, Dewey Redman & Ed Blackwell. Thank you Carla and goodnight Charlie.

    November 20, 2016
  2. geoffn #

    Yes, a, good one. After her introductions onstage Ruth Cameron sat in front of me and clearly relished every note. Thank you for identifying the encore.

    Silent Spring was first recorded almost 50 years ago with Gary Burton, as part of Carla’s A Genuine Tong Funeral, It was reissued last year and still sounds fresh.

    November 21, 2016
  3. Nick Grant #

    My friends who were seeing LMO for the first time winced at Carla’s physical frailty. It really is amazing to see her still taking the bandstand. As a drummer I wanna give him some for last night’s hugely varied rhythmic accompaniment, not least some eerie approximations of whale sounds.

    November 21, 2016
  4. Peter Vacher #

    Lovely piece, Richard. Just one thing it was Earl McIntyre on tuba not McBride. WEarl is offten seen here with the Mingus Big Band. regards. Peter

    November 21, 2016
    • Thanks, Peter. Can’t get the subs to concentrate at that time of night! Will correct.

      November 21, 2016
  5. Art Manchester #

    I caught the band recently at The Jazz Standard in N.Y.C. just before the election and their performance was powerful and deeply moving. They evoke the best that The United States has to offer.

    November 21, 2016
  6. Great gig, and they played the pants off ‘America the Beautiful’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. Sadly I never got to see Charlie play live, but thoroughly relished finally seeing Carla leading this great band.

    November 21, 2016
  7. MJG #

    Wish I’d been there, such a powerful and important band.
    I’ve seen them before at Ornette’s Meltdown when Robert Wyatt memorably joined them and back in the late 80s/early 90s at the Astoria where the poor sound did its utmost to obscure their message.
    I played “Not In My Name” the morning that we were all Trumped – it seemed the only appropriate musical response at the time. So pleased that they chose to foreground its music at this concert. Carla Bley played beautifully with her trio at Ronnie’s earlier in the year – age doesn’t seem to diminish her musicality one iota
    I plumped for Wayne Shorter at the Barbican instead – it was pretty astonishing. Such a shame they clashed

    November 21, 2016
  8. Alan Laney #

    It was a wonderful evening of music and just seemed to build emotionally as the evening went on. Had not seen the LMO or Carla Bley before but wish I had. Thanks for your review Richard – it helped put the concert into perspective for someone relatively new to this music.

    November 21, 2016
  9. GuitarSlinger #

    The song they soul do played that sums up the realities here in the US as well as one Haden recorded twice in his later years is Metheny / Bowie’s ” This Is Not America “

    November 23, 2016
  10. Richard et al, I mentioned at the start of the concert that Radio 3 would be recording it, and the result (minus encore, which would have run over our time allowance) goes out on Monday next:

    December 1, 2016

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