16 “I can always tell”

Irene. From Charlie Haden and Hampton Hawes, As Long as There’s Music, 1978

Such a wondrous combination here. “I can always tell it’s Hamp after hearing the first few notes”, Haden wrote. And there is something special about the pianist’s touch – rendered superbly here by the recording. I could tell after the first few notes I was going to love this album forever.

It had an unintentional tease campaign. The first of Haden’s remarkable A&M LPs that presented his work with a sequence of duo partners – Closeness – came out in ’76. It featured freer players, all of whom Haden had made important recordings with already: Alice Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian and Ornette Coleman. It’s a striking collection, and the piece there with Ornette remains one of my favourite Coleman moments. The notes offer a slightly odd thanks to Hawes, referring to “several selections” not included on the record.

Closeness’ successor The Golden Number, which doesn’t seem to have bene reissued, again featured famous Haden associates – Coleman, Cherry and Shepp – but one of the Hawes tracks made it that time. It’s a deeply felt exploration of Coleman’s classically simple blues, Turnaround. Poignantly, it’s the best thing on the album, which Haden dedicated to Hawes after his death from a stroke not long after the session. I seem to recall thinking it was better than Jarrett’s contribution to album one. You have to wonder how the undersung Hawes felt about Keith’s already-in-progress deification.

That was the best possible priming for the release – by a different label – of (I guess) the complete Hawes/Haden session a year or so later. I’ll spare you a spray of superlatives, but I’d need a lot to do this album justice. I don’t know Hawes’ earlier discography well, and Haden went on to make many more duo records – including a full session with Ornette – but I think this is some of the best work either of them ever did.

Always in duos, Haden’s astounding ear and unfailingly apt responses seem to allow his partners new degrees of freedom. One of the Haden scores reproduced on the other LPs has the opening comment “phrase freely”. Well, standing orders, surely.

He and Hawes knew each other well, musically – he relates he listened to Hawes records in high school, and they had often played together in clubs, or just in rooms together for fun. It shows. The pianist is basically an old bebopper, but doesn’t do fusillades of notes and stayed away from the tramlines – he’s marvellously inventive in the moment and always seems t have a slightly oblique chord or a new melodic twist to take a solo in a new direction. Haden, of course, can do the same in his own solos, and complements Hawes perfectly at every moment when both are playing. It’s a supremely relaxed and satisfying session, where two masters just settle in and see where the music takes them.

Turnaround – here again – is still great work. (The first version is included on the CD reissue of this set as well). The title track, and what a fine title it is, gets singled out by Morton and Cook in their compendious guide as one of the best single examples of all Haden’s virtues. But I’ve gone for Irene because it’s a Hawes composition. It’s the opener, and always has me settling in so I can be sure to listen closely to the whole set.

In these later years of archival excavation, re-telling this history makes me curious about what else might have been captured on the other sessions for the A&M releases. Are there hidden treasures still? So glad this one was saved, anyhow.

After all these time, this still sits on the music player I need to go running – something I took up a couple of decades after this record came out. It’s the dullest activity, but listening allows something more interesting to happen at the same time. When I select this, I might even end up running a little longer so I can hear more. Now that’s good.

Full album

Why the No 16? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify

And I’m going to collect all the posts on this page.

(Photo of Hampton Hawes from The Golden Number LP sleeve.)

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