Haden and Rubalcaba had met in Havana in 1986 where his group played on a Havana Jazz Plaza Festival on the same night as Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Haden quickly became a major supporter of the pianist, urging Bruce Lundvall of Blue Note Records to sign him. He joined Haden, along with drummer Paul Motian at the 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival, and the music was issued as part of Haden’s “The Montreal Tapes” series. They would collaborate in concert and on recordings a number of more times, including the six songs (sequenced by Haden) the pair performed over four nights in Toyko that are presented here.
Rubalcaba is a marvelously gifted pianist with stunning technique and touch that goes with the keen musical intelligence he manifests throughout these duets, which display the empathy he and Haden had in these intimate and lyrical performances, opening with Martin Rojas’ lovely ballad “En La Orilla Del Mundo (The Edge of the World).” Haden’s love of movie music is displayed in the romanticism that permeates their rendition of the Johnny Mercer-David Raskin composed “My Love and I,” with Haden more prominent in the performance with the first solo (accented by the pianist’s chords) followed by more remarkable, and beautiful playing from Rubalcaba.
Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave” (first recorded in 1958), is taken at a bit more spirited tempo, and after Haden’s strong solo, Rubalcaba’s wonderful playing brings out the melodic delight of Coleman’s composition as he does on Haden’s own “Sandino,” whose title commemorates the Nicaraguan revolutionary leader where he is able to mix lines played at high velocity with several bars played in a more stately manner while providing a feeling of calmness, even through the most rhythmically stirring passages. After a lovely rendition of “Solamente Una Vez (You Belong To My Heart),” Agustîn Lara’s bolero, “Tokyo Adagio” concludes with Rubalcaba’s lovely ballad, “Transparence,” on which Haden provides the last musical utterance with a musical figure after the pianist’s ending.
Ned Sublette, in his appreciation in the liner booklet, observes the sense of calm about the music heard here and the enchanting performances here certainly are in accord with this. The booklet also provides Rubalcaba’s memories of Haden and these performances, and has recollections of Haden’s widow, Ruth Cameron-Haden who notes Haden’s love of the slow movements in classical pieces (leading to the album title), his going to Tokyo to perform despite starting to experience the effects of post-polio syndrome, and the production of this recording. Listeners should be grateful that Haden was insistent about having the music on “Tokyo Adagio” released after he had passed on. It is a recording full of beauty, spirit and heart characteristic of Charlie Haden’s remarkable career.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 363). Here is a performance of Charlie Haden & Gonzalo Rubalcaba from an earlier album.