September 1, 2020

Charlie Haden & Joe Henderson – Montreal Trio


By Armand Lewis

The 1989 Montreal Jazz Festival held a series of tribute concerts to bassist Charlie Haden. Haden himself participated in these sets which featured jazz artists he had previously recorded with, including Gerri Allen and Pat Metheny, previous band mates such as Don Cherry and Paul Bley, as well as Haden’s own Liberation Music Orchestra.

Radio Canada had the foresight to record these sets and the resulting tapes, in addition to being broadcast at the time, were made available on CD by Verve Records in the later ‘90s and early 2000s. Possibly the best of these concerts has now being released on vinyl in a two LP 180gram audiophile edition as Charlie Haden: The Montreal Tapes – Tribute to Joe Henderson (Verve Play 33 1/3 LP-43172).

Born in 1937, Charlie Haden joined his family’s country music act at a very early age. After becoming interested in jazz while in his teens, he made his way to Los Angeles, where he played bass with a number of local jazz groups, eventually joining up with Ornette Coleman just as the saxophonist was heading for New York.

In the mid 1960s, Haden would lead and play with a number of groups, including his large ensemble Liberation Music Orchestra. By the 1970s, Haden would start to make albums consisting entirely of duets with other freedom-minded musicians, including Archie Shepp, Alice Coltrane and his mentor Ornette Coleman.

Also from a musical family, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson would become a regular on Blue Note in the early 1960s, appearing on such seminal albums as Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, Grant Green’s Idle Moments, Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder as well as his own LPs including Page One and Mode for Joe. In the 1970s, Henderson would lead a series of jazz/funk LPs for Milestone before concentrating on teaching in the Bay area.

The format of tenor saxophone, bass and drums had previously been used by several high profile jazz legends including John Coltrane (side one of his Lush Life LP – 1957), Lee Konitz (Motion – 1961) and most famously, Sonny Rollins (A Night at the Village Vanguard – 1957). In November 1985, Blue Note recorded two LPs of Henderson in a trio setting at the famed Village Vanguard club in New York. The resulting two LPs (State of the Tenor Volumes 1 & 2) would be regarded as among the best jazz LPs of the year.

Two years later, Henderson would record another trio album for the Italian label Red Records that would feature Haden and drummer Al Foster. An Evening with Joe Henderson would be considered – again – not only among the best jazz releases of the year, but also among Henderson’s best recordings for any label.

Haden must have remembered the Red session when the Montreal Jazz Festival asked him who he would like to play with. The trio was completely reunited and seems to have simply picked up where they left off in Italy in 1987.

The Montreal Tapes starts off with Thelonious Monk’s classic “Round Midnight.” Beginning with a two and a half minute introductory solo, Henderson literally pick apart Monk’s melody, examines every note and reassembles it as a personal statement. Haden and Foster provide effective, but minimal support – one can feel them laying back – digging what is basically a twelve minute improvisational solo masterpiece.

The standard “All the Things You Are” has a much more group feel with Haden and Foster providing a stronger role in the ensemble with both Haden and Foster taking very strong solos for the last half of the performance.

The liner notes quote Henderson as asking Haden if they could … “play something free – like you did with Ornette… Chords and key signatures are just excess baggage. Let’s throw them overboard.” Overboard they go in Haden’s own composition “In the Moment,” which effectively blends Henderson’s own modal style with Ornette Coleman’s pioneering free-jazz approach.

Wrapping up the hour long set, the trio returns to their modernist roots with Charlie Parker’s “Passport.” Played more in Henderson’s modal style than Parker’s be-bop approach, the trio once again successfully integrates a free-jazz style into what remains a bop standard.

Joe Henderson would record one more trio album for Red Records in 1991. The Standard Joe would again feature Al Foster on drums, but with Rufus Reid on bass. One can only conclude that Charlie Haden was unavailable that day as, while the set is once again excellent, it seems to be missing that certain something that makes The Montreal Tapes one of the best trio recordings you are likely to hear from any group in any era.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at


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