Charlie Haden: My Back Pages – Respecting the Music With Phil Baker
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity”
Charlie Haden’s tone and minimalism have made him one of my favorite bassists. His deep gut-stringed tone made him the perfect complement to the horns in Ornette Coleman’s chordless quartet (Coleman-alto sax, Don Cherry-trumpet, Billy Higgins-drums), the gig that first propelled Haden to fame.
Haden was a natural choice for Keith Jarrett, who respected Coleman a great deal, when he put together his first trio, along with Paul Motian on drums.
This song, “My Back Pages”, is a cover of Bob Dylan’s classic. It is one of only two contemporary songs that Jarrett ever covered. The other one is Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” on Jarrett’s “Mourning of a Star” record. I usually don’t like covers as well as the original but this, along with Jimi Hendrix’s “All along the Watchtower” (another Dylan classic) and “Hey Joe” are exceptions.
The song starts with Haden stating the melody simply and out of time, using double stops to imply some of the harmony. Listen to how Motian plays only eighth notes for the first two choruses while Jarrett plays the melody. Like snowflakes, each eighth note is different. Motian’s entrance is so effective and musical when he adds the rest of the drums on the third chorus. It may seem off the subject to talk about the drums but the minimalism of Motian’s drumming is reflected in Haden’s solo. He starts with simple ideas and switches to a strumming technique that was also used by Jimmy Garrison, bassist with John Coltrane’s classic quartet.
I’ve often wondered why a solo has to contain more notes than a melody, and Haden’s solo is a perfect example that it doesn’t. The interpretation of this is a musical example of Ockham’s razor, often paraphrased as “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one.”
Click below to download and listen to “My Back Pages”