critic’s pick 332: keith jarrett/charlie haden, ‘last dance’

last danceLast Dance is many intended things album of understated but extraordinary beauty, a subtle and soulful conversation by two jazz titans – Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden – whose friendship extends back nearly a half century and a loving representation of a jazz standard’s seemingly limitless interpretative possibilities.

It is also something fully unexpected. Released on June 17, the album stands as the final recording prominently featuring the great bassist Haden to be released in his lifetime. He died on July 11 at age 76 of complications from post-polio syndrome.

How noble it would be to view this delicate, spirited music without factoring in Haden’s passing. Maybe you can do that. I couldn’t.

The hushed finesse of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s My Ship, for instance, takes on an unavoidably bittersweet quality. That doesn’t detract from the beauty of one of Jarrett’s most delicately graceful recorded performances or the way Haden follows him like a shadow until his own playing on the double bass – a sound that absolutely sings – is allowed to solo.

The same feeling emerges when Jarrett glides serenely into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s It Might As Well Be Spring, where Haden’s feathery bass punctuation serves as a dance partner as much as a duet voice.

Last Dance was recorded during the same round of 2007 sessions that gave us another Jarrett/Haden duets album, Jasmine, in 2011. So finality wasn’t on either player’s mind when this music was recorded. What surfaces instead is a reflection of the musical camaraderie that began in the ‘60s and hit its first pinnacle with several ‘70s collaborations for the European ECM label (which also issued Last Dance). The communication between the two players on the new album is so heightened and exact you can almost picture them playing this music in your living room.

Jarrett, of course, is an old hand with this stuff. Aside from his famed solo piano concerts centered exclusively on improvisation, he has led a resourceful trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette for over 25 years devoted largely to new explorations of jazz standards. But listen to the solo bass blues-speak Haden creates here on Everything Happens to Me and you discover his ability to unlock the lyrical bounty of a standard is equally authoritative.

Then, of course, we have the coincidental application of the titles. Could anyone have imagined Haden’s final album would bear the name Last Dance? Or that its closing tune, would be a pastoral interpretation of Gordon Jenkins’ Goodbye? Or, for that matter, that the next-to-last song would be an equally lovely version of Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye?

It all makes for the most touching of parting shots – the kind that was never intended to be one.

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