Through bassist Charlie Haden’s long and illustrious career, concepts such as “freedom” and “liberation” seem to turn up repeatedly. His role in the evolution of free jazz with Ornette Coleman’s quartet has been well documented, and his own recordings with the Liberation Music Orchestra obviously extend the theme. In this regard, it is interesting now to consider his latest project, Nocturne (Verve), a collaboration with pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba that focuses on the Cuban bolero tradition: balladlike structures that build enormous drama through their reliance on a very strict rhythmic structure. Unlike Ravel’s famous interpretation, these boleros eschew even the martial crack of sticks on snare, asking drummer Ignacio Berroa to build with whispering brushes a foundation for performances of great elegance and emotion.
Berroa’s partners at Yoshi’s included Haden and Rubalcaba, of course, along with David Sanchez on tenor sax and Federic Britos Ruiz on violin. In timbre and temperament, their approach recalled that of the Modern Jazz Quartet as well as the marvelous tango ensembles of Astor Piazzolla; in listening to two virtually identical sets, one can appreciate the nuances of performance that give each its aesthetic DNA, along with the deep respect among the players for the compositions and arrangements that give them such settings for their work. Boldness and delicacy, bravado and tenderness, quiet ebullience and committed restraint: these tensions of the bolero were exquisitely drawn out in these performances, leaving a warm hush when the applause at last dies down.