Michael Brecker's tenor saxophone, with its declamatory pronouncements and keening high notes, commands attention throughout American Dreams, but Haden's bass is at the bottom of the dreamy feeling that pervades all but one track.
Haden's title composition opens the album with the bassist playing a folk song-like melody over strings arranged in rich layers by Alan Broadbent. As the strings fade, pianist Brad Mehldau introduces a second melody. Haden interacts with Mehldau. Brian Blade skips brushes across drums and cymbals, crystal strokes against time that's as soft as the mood. Just a degree above silence, the strings slip in under the trio, swelling as Haden works his way back into the first theme and concludes a performance of great simplicity and beauty.
The orchestral writing on six pieces arranged by Broadbent and three by Jeremy Lubbock is ripe with harmonic interest; on the two by Vince Mendoza sounds are more purely functional. Highlights include Broadbent's scoring for violins and cellos on "America the Beautiful," his paraphrase of the melody in support of Haden's solo on "Young and Foolish" and Lubbock's work with two ballads written by Dave Grusin with Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Lubbock's mysterious ending on a sixth chord had me going back several times to the conclusion of "It Might Be You."
Accommodating himself to the strings, Mehldau minimizes the role of his left hand and, for the most part, plays sparely. He turns a couple of finger-bobble lemons into lemonade. Mehldau has satisfying solos on Don Sebesky's "Bittersweet" (formerly called "You Can't Go Home Again") and Ornette Coleman's "Bird Food." The Coleman piece, a slice of neobop, is the only uptempo quartet performance on an album of reflective music but, somehow, it fits with the others-a bit of Haden magic.