Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker – American Dreams

American Dreams
Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker
(Verve – 2002)
by Shaun Dale

It’s billed as Charlie Haden and Michael Brecker, but pianist Brad Mehldau and drummer Brian Blade are no less important to the success of Haden’s tribute “…the America that could be, that really should be.” Using material drawn from his own pen as well as the books of Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman and others, and augmented on eight tracks by a string orchestra, the interplay between these four musicians sounds like anything but a one-off project. If Haden started alternating releases between this quartet and his regular Quartet West, it would be a service to jazz fans everywhere.

Haden and Brecker do take the lion’s share of solos on the album, though, and probably deserve their joint billing on that basis. The arrangements, though, by Haden, Alan Broadbent, Jeremy Lubbock, and Vince Mendoza, aren’t really structured as vehicles for dramatic improvisation. Haden’s goal is to reflect his theme by drawing on a wide range of American sources and styles, from Coleman’s outside adventures to “America The Beautiful” (and making “America The Beautiful” work as a jazz tune is one of the major achievements of this disc). Of course, it would hardly be a Charlie Haden project without a tip of the hat to Hollywood, provided here by a pair of songs from the soundrack work of Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

Haden’s play is as strong as ever, and the voice of Brecker’s tenor is unerringly true throughout the set. While the lush arrangements and modest tempo’s make this accessible to novice or smooth jazz fans, the underlying structure and virtuosity of the entire quartet will hold the interest of the most seasoned afficianado.