Live review: Charlie Haden Family & Friends at Disney Hall
Jazz luminary Charlie Haden took no small amount of perverse joy Tuesday night in bringing the old-time country music with which he started his musical career in the Midwest seven decades ago into the tony surroundings of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
“Man, oh, man,” the 72-year-old bassist said upon taking the stage. “Who would have thought we’d have a country audience at Disney Hall?”
And that’s not the half of it. In less than three weeks, the hall has hosted Steve Martin’s mostly serious-minded venture into bluegrass music, Kris Kristofferson’s solo show and now Haden and a group of stellar Nashville singers and instrumentalists playing what once upon a time was referred to as “hillbilly music.” If this keeps up, people are going to start confusing Disney Hall with Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree.
But while this tour takes him back to the music he played with his parents and siblings through the Ozarks and elsewhere before he fell in love with jazz, flew the coop for Los Angeles, met Ornette Coleman and signed on with the saxophonists groundbreaking Liberation Music Orchestra, Haden’s hardly slumming.
The band members he brought with him to Disney Hall, most of whom also played on his inspired 2008 “Rambling Boy” album that spawned the tour, has as much in common with the stereotype of primitive hillbilly music as a $400,000 International Harvester Axial-Flow Combine has with a cast-iron plow.
Haden was flanked with several of the best musicians in the business: Union Station singer-guitarist Dan Tyminski, mandolinist Sam Bush, dobro master Jerry Douglas, fiddler Stuart Duncan, banjo player Jim Mills and guitarists Bryan Sutton and Mark Fain.
And living up to the “family” part of the “Charlie Haden Family & Friends” billing, he brought out his triplet daughters, Petra, Tanya and Rachel, son Josh, wife Ruth Cameron and son-in-law Jack Black to handle most of the vocals on songs that stretched back to the beginning of modern country music. The set list spanned old time country standards from the Carter Family (“Wildwood Flower,” “Single Girl, Married Girl”) to Josh Haden’s comparatively recent offerings of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” and his own deeply yearning “Spiritual.”
Haden’s daughters often appeared uncomfortable at center stage without any instruments of their own, nervously bobbing and weaving in time with the band. Black, however, brought along enough stage presence and performance bravado to compensate for half a dozen wallflowers, doing somersaults from one instrumental soloist to another in the middle of his vocal spotlight on “Old Joe Clark.”
Cameron connected the dots between American folk tradition and the older music of Ireland, England and Scotland that immigrants brought here centuries ago with her touching rendition of “Down By the Salley Gardens” that she delivered with just a hint of a brogue.
Haden himself kept the rhythm anchored with unfussy bass lines, reveling in the fundamentalism of his instrument’s role in country and bluegrass music. They even made the war horse “Orange Blossom Special” sizzle with unpredictable chords interpolated into the song’s basic framework.
One quibble with the L.A. Philharmonic-presented evening: The music Haden offered up doesn't get much more quintessentially American than this -- unless it's the jazz with he's most closely identified. Yet it was billed as the first offering on the orchestra’s 2009-2010 "world music" series. Last we checked, as far removed as the Ozarks and Appalachia are from Walt Disney Concert Hall, they were still part of the United States. And in the wake of the Martin, Kristofferson and Haden shows, isn't it time for a full-fledged "Americana" or "roots music" series at the venue named for one of the great innovators of American pop culture?