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Bassist Charlie Haden has been one of the stand-out players on his chosen instrument for many years. I first heard him playing with pianist Paul Bley on a late 50's recording. After that he turned up on a very fine album by the LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA, among others. This set collects Haden's work for the Black Saint/Soul Note label-all in remastered sound. These are the original albums-there's no bonus tracks, nor is there a booklet-only what information is on the back of the reprinted period album covers. Everything fits inside a lidded, substantial cardboard box. There's album information on the back of the outer box. This is one of several fine box sets recently released by the label featuring, among others (and two of my favorites), David Murray's Octets, and Henry Threadgill in various groups. There's also a fine set by Bill Dixon which more jazz listeners should hear.
This set collects some fine releases by Haden, some sometimes difficult to find at a decent price. The two OLD AND NEW DREAMS sets are, in part, an homage to both Ornette Coleman and Blackwell. They're full of intelligently arranged, sometimes exciting jazz. With Haden, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Ed Blackwell (especially), this music is very reminiscent of Coleman's music-very alive and moving. "Old and..." has one track written by Coleman, and the rest are by Redman, Haden, and Cherry. Haden's bass work is very fine, no matter if he's keeping time, filling in open spots in the arrangements, or out front. Needless to say the other band members are equally fine. There's a longish drum solo (which generally I personally dislike) on "Augmented" on the first album, but Blackwell's intelligent use of his drums keeps the interest up. The "Tribute..." album is live recordings in honor of Blackwell, recorded at the Ed Blackwell Festival in 1987. This set contains several pieces by Ornette Coleman and two from band members. This music is imbued with a subtle fire and passion (hear the lead track "Happy House"), and contains some good passages of pure jazz from all the players.
"Etudes", with Haden, pianist Geri Allen, and the fine drummer Paul Motion (who has a box in this series), is more of an Allen recording than Haden's. This set at times sounds like a Bill Evans set-especially with Motion, who played with Evans in his trio. This is a high point of this set, with Allen sounding very good, and both Haden and Motion playing at a high level-not merely as a backup rhythm section. Besides, the group plays a tune from one of my favorite (and relatively unknown) pianists, Herbie Nichols-hear his complete work on the Blue Note Records label. Coleman's "Lonely Woman" is also here. Allen's "Dolphy Dance " is a fine piece of music for the trio to explore. Allen oftentimes plays softly, but her tone still has an underlying power-which makes this set one of Haden's best.
"Silence", with Chet Baker-trumpet/vocal, Enrico Pieranunzi-piano, and the great Billy Higgins on drums, is somewhat of a letdown after the fine music that preceded it. By this late date, Baker's talents had dwindled to a low point-he sounds nothing like his early self. Higgins redeems this set somewhat, but can't truly save these tracks. Haden seems to rise to the occasion here with some very fine playing, along with Pieranunzi, who, likewise, contributes some good keyboard work. He is a little known pianist who has released some good music on his own, and has also played with Baker previous to this set. Tracks include Charlie Parker's "Visa", Richard Rogers' "My Funny Valentine", and Monk's "'Round About Midnight". If you like the piano work here, check out the box set in this series under Pieranunzi's name.
"First Song", with the same band as above minus Baker, is a better representation of this bands playing abilities. Being a trio format, all the musicians get plenty of room to play. The piano and bass both swing when they want to, and on the slower tunes they both play with an understated beauty. Higgins is his usual self-filling in when needed with crisp drum patterns and keeping the others on the mark. This album reminds me somewhat of an ECM recording-it's understated and subtle-maybe to much so for some. There's a couple of well known tunes-"Polka Dots and Moonbeams", "Si Si", and "All The Way". Haden's tunes are also well worth hearing in this context.
For fans of Haden, this is an essential purchase. Others may want this for the OLD AND NEW DREAMS sets. This is another instance where a record label boxes up some fine music for a relatively low price. So, if you're thinking of purchasing this set (and maybe others in this series), I wouldn't wait to long-some of these are already difficult to find. While Haden has recorded other fine albums, this set contains some very good and some lesser efforts. But overall this is another worthwhile set, and fills in a period of Haden's career around his ECM period work and his so-called privately released (hear "Charlie Haden's Private Collection Vol. 1 & 2") material.