Tuesday, August 04, 2015


A posthumous release, but one that Charlie Haden ardently desired prior to his passing in July 2014. Tokyo Adagio marks the ultimate step in the American bassist's collaborations with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, the pianist of genius he met in Cuba in 1986, and with whom Charlie immediately found an entente bordering on telepathy. 

Several recordings - the famous Montreal Tapes of 1998, the studio albums Nocturne (2001) and Land of the Sun (2004) - are evidence of the huge complicity binding these two musicians, but no recording had yet given new life to the pure exchange they gave to the audience at the Blue Note Tokyo on consecutive evenings in spring 2005.

Ten years later, impulse! is happy to publish this unique eye-witness account with a title to Charlie's taste (he referred to himself as "an adagio guy.") Through this tribute to the stateliness of his inimitable grace, the spirit of Charlie Haden is still with us.

One of the qualities I most prize about this album is its paradoxical sense of timelessness and placelessness -- beyond jet lag, beyond the endless grey hours spent at 35,000 feet to get to the gig -- framed in a specific time and place. 

Tokyo, March 16-19, 2005: an audience in evening clothes, ordering drinks in Japanese whispers and inadvertently clinking their silverware, listened raptly as Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Charlie Haden connected with an almost Zen sense of stillness in a nocturnal musicspace. It's the paradox of recording: the moment is gone, but the moment is forever, encapsulating who the two men were when they played together. By the time this recording was made, they had been playing together for twenty years, leaving indelible imprints on each other's musical identities. 

All six numbers on this album have appeared previously on Charlie's various studio recordings, one of which was made in collaboration with Gonzalo called Nocturne. Musically, Charlie plays mainly a supporting part here, as bassists do, while Gonzalo does most of the elaboration, however it's Charlie who is directing the flow. It is Charlie who is the producer. 

I've been listening to Tokyo Adagio for six months now, and every time I hear it I'm struck by its sense of calm. There's even a feeling of serenity in the two uptempo numbers: Charlie's composition "Sandino" (whose title commemorates the Nicaraguan revolutionary leader), and Ornette Coleman's "When Will the Blues Leave" (which originally appeared on Coleman's groundbreaking 1958 album Something Else!!!!. Though Gonzalo is elsewhere a grandmaster of rhythmic complexity at high velocity, that's not what is happening here - instead a virtuosic sense of timekeeping manifests itself as simultaneities occur seemingly out of nowhere. 

Charlie loved movie music -- "My Love and I" is by quintessential Hollywood composer David Raksin -- and he had a streak of nostalgic romanticism that suffuses this recording. Two of the numbers are better known by their original Spanish titles: "The Edge of the World" is Martín Rojas's "En La Orilla del Mundo" (whose lyric, unheard here, describes wandering to an unfamiliar shore), and "You Belong To My Heart" is Agustín Lara's well-known bolero "Solamente Una Vez" whose title translates to "Only Once" (and whose lyric proposes that love is the hope that illuminates one's path.) 

For me, the most touching moment appears at the conclusion: Gonzalo's composition "Transparence" whose last musical utterance - the close of the album -- is played by Charlie who continues after Gonzalo's ending to play a figure that descends to the tonic, conveying a sense of finality that seems especially poignant now. In terms of sequencing the album, that was a compositional choice: Tokyo Adagio was put together with Charlie's full participation before he departed, and it was he who gave the album its haunting name. 

ABRIENDO CAMINOS / OPENING THE PATHS - by Gonzalo Rubalcaba, as told to Ned Sublette 

This album is the result of a four-night residency Charlie Haden and I played at the Blue Note in Tokyo in March, 2005. Over the years, we made music together in many different formats - trios, quartets, larger groups - but this date was just us, a duo of piano and bass. 

I first learned about Charlie when I was a teenager in Havana. It was difficult getting information in Cuba at that time, and it was even more difficult to find out about music from the United States. But every night, Monday through Friday at 11pm, Horacio Hernández (father of drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernández) presented his jazz program on CMBF Radio Musical Nacional, and for that half hour I was glued to the radio. One night he played Keith Jarrett's, The Survivors' Suite, announcing the musicians' names -- Dewey Redman on tenor, Paul Motian on drums, Charlie Haden on bass.  I engraved those names into my brain. 

Then in 1986, when I was twenty-three, Charlie came to Cuba with his Liberation Music Orchestra to play at the Havana Jazz Plaza Festival. 

I had just flown in directly from Moscow after performing in the Soviet Union. I don't know exactly how it happened that the festival programmed my group, Projecto, on the same concert with the Liberation Music Orchestra, but, let's just say, that nothing happens on earth that is not observed by divine forces.

After we played our set, Charlie came over to talk to me. I didn't understand a word of English, so we had to have a translator.  "We have to play together," he said to me. "How can we do that?" He and I had someone arrange for us to go the EGREM recording studio the very next day. Charlie pulled out some charts and we played together for two or three hours. He left with a cassette of the session. He was very enthusiastic, and when he got back to the U.S, he took the tape to Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note Records: "Bruce, I want you to hear this. You gotta sign this kid, he lives in Cuba!"

Dizzy Gillespie had been in Cuba before Charlie, and Dizzy had already been talking about me, and Bruce had heard the talk. But Charlie was much more direct and assertive. He was persistent and diligent about making sure it happened.  There was a major obstacle, however: it was illegal in the US to sign a Cuban artist, so it had to be done through an affiliated company, Toshiba EMI in Japan. In the meantime, Charlie figured out a way for us to play an important concert together by inviting me to come to the 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival as his guest. The plan was for me to play a concert with him, and Paul Motian on drums, as part of the festival which had organized a 10-day tribute to Charlie. This was recorded by CBC and later became part of Charlie's The Montreal Tapes series. 

The first album we made, Discovery, was subsequently recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1990, in a trio also with Paul Motian on drums. 
Bruce was at the concert as were the Japanese executives who approved the deal after we finished playing. At the time, the US wouldn't let me enter the country, so we recorded the second album The Blessing with Charlie and Jack DeJohnette in a studio in Canada. For me, just beginning my career, the way Charlie went about opening the path for me, made all the difference.

Despite the gap in our ages, he never treated me as an inferior in any sense. We had each other's confidence. We could talk about politics, life, family, business. Spending so much time with him, I learned not only about music, but also about being. Our connection was about love, for the music and for our families, and for each other.


Charlie often said to me, and others, that he was an "adagio guy" - and he was! He loved the slow movements in classical pieces. Hence the title of this album is so appropriate.

By 2005 Charlie was already starting to experience the ill effects of post-polio syndrome that would later hasten his death. He had been battling aspiration pneumonia but nevertheless insisted on traveling all the way to Japan to perform with Gonzalo. Gonzalo was family and he wanted to take this opportunity to perform with him in duo. To explore the music in an intimate setting which was one of Charlie's favorite musical endeavors.  

He remembered their first meeting in Cuba in 1986 - so many years ago - when he first heard this young genius. He had then figured out a way to perform with him at a major concert in Montreal, Canada, and to later record with him. Gonzalo was subsequently able to get a recording contract, and the rest is history. 

Once Charlie was confined to home because he had become to ill to travel, he began to listen to tapes of previous concerts and discovered this gem. He immediately called Jean-Philippe Allard, our producer from impulse! Universal Music France, and a stalwart supporter of Charlie and his music throughout the years. Charlie asked Jean-Philippe to listen to the music. This had to be released! It was too good to be lost forever. 

Once Jean Philippe had listened to the tapes, he, too, agreed and together we began to choose the most important tracks to go on the album. Charlie listened for days with great intensity, using his refined senses until he made his decisions. His ear was huge and he always made the right musical choices. The mood is intimate, even hushed as each musician listens to the other, creating a tapestry woven from sheer beauty. 

Charlie and I are so lucky to have loyal friends in producers Jean-Philippe Allard  and Farida Bachir who love the music as much as Charlie and Gonzalo and I do that they want to release it to the world. 

We are now all so lucky to be able to share in this listening experience. Charlie has passed on but his spirit remains with us in his music forever.

Lovingly, Ruth 
Los Angeles, March 9, 2015

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