The last album by the Liberation Music Orchestra was Not In Our Name (2005) – the title aimed at then-President George W. Bush – and still relevant as we go in 2017. Bandleader Charlie Haden and his wife, Ruth Cameron, had been planning an environmental-themed follow-up as early as 2007. By 2011, the arrangements, written by the evergreen Carla Bley, had started to take shape. The orchestra performed at the Middleheim Jazz Festival in Antwerp that summer, and performed a lush version of Bill Evans and Miles Davis’ Blue In Green, which opens the new album. It’s truly haunting, particularly when Haden introduces the band members at the end of the tune. It also demonstrates that the influence of Gil Evans’ pioneering work with Miles from that era is still being felt today.
Song For The Whales, an environmental-themed piece composed by Haden back in 1979, and resurrected on the splendid Nightfall CD (2004), brings the album to a close. It’s a sad lament, again recorded live at the same festival by Belgium Public Radio.
The original intention was to return to the studio, and re-record these arrangements for the new album, but sadly, Haden’s health took a turn for the worse.
Another track earmarked by Haden and Cameron for the new album was Carla Bley’s Útviklingssang, which originally appeared on her 1981 LP, Social Studies. It’s a haunting ballad, written in response to the Norwegian government’s decision to construct a series of dams in the north of the country, and the disastrous impact it would have on the environment. Steve Swallow takes Haden’s place on the new recordings, which seems fitting, given their long-standing friendship.
Bley also dusted off an older composition from the 1960s, Silent Spring, which appeared on the Gary Burton LP, A Genuine Tong Funeral, back in 1968. The new arrangement opens with a gorgeous duet for guitar and electric bass, before the surging horns come in, and give the arrangement a more triumphant feel, eventually making space for tenor saxophone and trumpet solos.
The title track, another Bley composition, is really the centrepiece of the album. It was composed by Bley when she learned of Haden’s passing, and presented as a gift to Ruth Cameron. The Orchestra was reconvened to rehearse the tune on a Monday, played at Haden’s memorial next day, and recorded the tune in the studio on the Wednesday. “Everybody just felt Charlie’s spirit then,” Cameron recalled. As one would expect, the music and playing are incredibly poignant.
The leadership of the Orchestra has now passed to Carla Bley, who was effectively the co-leader and arranger for many years. Charlie’s spirit and sense of justice lives on, and it will be both wonderful and moving to see the Orchestra reconvene at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. Time/Life captures that spirit to good effect, despite the piecemeal nature of the recording, and works well as a whole – just as Haden originally intended.