Charlie Haden featuring Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Nocturne

Bassist Charlie Haden has been a masterful contributor to everything from Ornette Coleman’s pioneering outside ensembles and Keith Jarrett’s slashing groups to his own freewheeling, nearly anarchic Liberation Music Orchestra. Haden’s also proven the ideal duet partner, having teamed with pianist Hampton Hawes, Coleman, guitarist Pat Metheny and the flamboyant Cuban keyboardist Gonzalo Rubalcaba on previous releases. On Nocturne, Haden and Rubalcaba aren’t joining forces on some fierce encounter or groundbreaking project. Instead, they are exploring another of Haden’s passions, the bolero, in both its Cuban and Mexican variations. These are 11 lush, gorgeous, highly sensual pieces featuring, in addition to Haden’s prodigious bass and Rubalcaba’s disciplined yet spicy piano, excellent rhythmic touches from Ignacio Berroa and sensitive guest contributions from four major players.

Guitarist Pat Metheny displays a soft, beguiling side on “Noche de Ronda,” while David Sanchez and Joe Lovano show they can play breezy tenor-sax solos as well as boisterous ones on their tunes. The ringer proves to be violinist Federico Britos Ruiz, however. His light playing almost lulls the listener to sleep at times, yet he has a rich, vivid sound on his three numbers. Rubalcaba on many occasions has been more flash than invention, but there are no wasted notes or empty rhythmic barrages on Nocturne. He is careful never to clash with Haden, who guides the band through these pieces with grace and care. Haden doesn’t try to dominate any song, yet is very much at the center of each number, either aiding the soloist or interacting with Berroa to ably punctuate or conclude the composition.

There is absolutely nothing to dislike about this date, although it arguably might have been even better if a first-class vocalist like Compay Segundo had been on board. Still, Nocturne remains a great introduction to the bolero for those who aren’t familiar with it, and an excellent addition to the library of fans who already love it.