NEW YORK, July 2 (UPI) -- Bassist Charlie Haden presented his "American Dreams" project at the JVC New York Jazz Festival last week, opening the quartet-plus strings concert with a reflective original called "Peace."
A New York performance was most fitting for Haden's latest project, one of many in contemporary jazz that have taken on new inspiration and meaning since the tragic incidents of 9/11 tore a hole in America's heart and soul.
"This concert is dedicated to peace. The American Dreams band and orchestra are playing for peace in the world," Haden said in program notes for the Carnegie Hall concert.
Haden's band included new arrangements, with buoyant yet understated support of a string orchestra, of works by Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett, and pieces previously recorded by his own Quartet West. He closed with a stunning reharmonized version of "America the Beautiful." Haden opened this finale with a simple yet poignant solo bass statement of the full melody. Pianist Kenny Barron followed with a slightly embellished improvisation, which led into tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker's solo that lifted the song into a upbeat and stirring proclamation of pride and love of country.
"In this case, 9/11 had happened and everybody was in shock," Haden said. "I was just trying to figure out a way to express my feelings about why that shouldn't have happened. If this country was really the way the founding fathers wanted it to be, I think we would be seen differently in other parts of the world and 9/11 would not have happened."
Because they perform so often in the moment, jazz musicians tend to play - or write - what they are feeling. Several new recordings in addition to Haden's "American Dreams" are centered on some sort of renewed appreciation or reflection of what America means to them. Some, but not all, are centered on New York itself.
Guitarist Joel Harrison turned in one of the year's most unusual and ambitious projects on the ACT/High Note recording "Free Country." The album title is truth in packaging. Harrison and his band took a dozen of America's traditional country music anthems - including Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues," Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" and A.P. Carter's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" - and performed them in daring and innovative free jazz arrangements. Grammy-winning singer Norah Jones added her soul to the project on "I Walk the Line" and "Tennessee Waltz."
Composer Carla Bley, whose past material can best be described as ambitious and quirky, has just released a big band project called "Looking for America" on her own WATT Works label, which is distributed by ECM.
It includes a five-section 22-minute piece called "The National Anthem" that takes great musical license in recasting Francis Scott Key's original "Star Spangled Banner." The Bley derivation's subsections are called "OG Can UC?," "Flags," "Whose Broad Stripes?," "Anthem" and "Keep It Spangled."
Her Americana project also includes musical odes to rush hour, the Latino influences where she grew up in southern California, mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers and godmothers, and her own take on "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."
Canadian-born pianist D.D. Jackson, who has called New York home for more than a decade, made the Big Apple the focus of his newest CD.
"Suite for New York" is an 11-part recording on Canada's Justin Time Records. It was recorded by Jackson's nonet last December. The project's genesis was the song-length "Suite New York" on his 1999 solo piano album, "...So Far."
Jackson then was commissioned to compose a larger work for the annual "Celebrate Brooklyn" summer arts festival. The result was a 90-minute work, "A Canadian in New York."
The new CD includes several self-contained sections of the festival work - "The City," "El Barrio," BQE" (named for the often-clogged Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and "Brooklyn Lullaby" - plus newer material. It concludes with a cathartic benediction called "Towers of Light."
"I found myself reflecting even more on just what the city means to me," said Jackson. "I tried over time to put into perspective my feelings about that horrible day (9/11) and, after some time had passed, to put these feelings into music."