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Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance (ECM)

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What did they know when they titled the last recording released before Charlie Haden’s death on July 11? That his boyhood polio had returned, fatally as it turned out. Polio long ago robbed his young singing voice. So he became perhaps the most songful of bassists. That instrumental voice captures the nostalgia of “My Old Fame” with the gruff huskiness of a burly romantic, whispering the song in her imagined ear, or dancing in his dreams—an uncertain step or two, then finding his inner Astaire.

The rhythmic poise carries a resounding, muscular tone. Haden dwelt in the bass fiddle’s natural depths, rather than trying to make it zip around like a guitar, as so many contemporary bassists try to. So he became one of the best duets players ever, going back to the quiet revelation of these musicians’ duets on Haden’s 1976 recording Closeness. Nobody listened or responded more closely than Charlie Haden.

In this 2007 session, he fleshes out pianist Keith Jarrett’s every lyrical turn of phrase with splendid harmony or spare countermelody. Some striking substitute chords make the overplayed “Round Midnight” beam like a new moon.

Haden could also swing and fast-walk the bass buoyantly, as on Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels.” Last Dance’s uninvited infidel was polio, and by the time it ends with “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and then “Goodbye,” you know how he and Jarrett hate saying goodbye, and yet can’t stop saying it, and singing it.