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November 2005

Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra
Not in Our Name
Verve

If an album could divide blue-state jazz listeners from their red-state counterparts, Not in Our Name is the one. Bassist Charlie Haden gets right to the point in the liner notes: "The machine won the election again by hook and by crook: the way it won in 2000." It's refreshing to know that some people don't lose their feistiness as they get older-and, for that matter, that they can channel those feelings into a strong musical statement that stands on its own with or without the background commentary.

Arranger/pianist Carla Bley-Haden's sidekick for all four LMO projects-colors the music with dark-hued harmonies that reveal both a pensive side and sly commentary, which comes across through her whimsical humor. As an example, "This Is Not America," a Pat Metheny song restructured with a reggae groove, features on off-key quote of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the coda, this after quick quotes from "Dixie" and "The Star Spangled Banner." Bley's brooding "Blue Anthem" features Ahnee Sharon Freeman blowing equally dissonant "Charge" calls on French horn.

A nearly 17-minute medley serves as the album's centerpiece, beginning with "America the Beautiful" refurbished with minor harmonies, going through Gary McFarland's same-named piece on to the African-American anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," concluding with Ornette Coleman's "Skies of America." After that state of the union, the 12-member Orchestra's swinging version of "Amazing Grace" sends a message of hope and determination that Haden alludes to when he says, "Don't give up-the struggle continues."

And despite its political leanings, fans of both Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly can find plenty to enjoy on Not in Our Name-if only they'd listen.

Originally published in November 2005
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