Mellow Gold (Part Two)

THE GOLDEN NUMBER
SHEPP’S WAY

Charlie Haden
The Golden Number
A&M : 1977
Jazz Loft

CH, bass; Ornette Coleman, trumpet (on “The Golden Number”); Archie Shepp, tenor sax (on “Shepp’s Way”).

Gold Fever, y’all: We’re back with another installment of the Golden Number. In mathematics, the golden number refers to certain geometric properities that create a perfect square. In nature, the golden number is enacted in various shapes like the circling spheres in the head of a daisy. It occurs in Tennesse where you can play their solid gold lottery and win you some millions. And in Paris, the Golden Number is the name of an old daytime soap opera featuring dramatic fireworks spawned by escapades of love and money. And then there’s Charlie Haden’s no less extraordinary contribution to the genre — that beautiful slice of wax, The Golden Number.

Recorded in 1976, this album was Haden’s second installment of duets with celebrated musicians. Although it’s his show, on first listen Haden tends to get upstaged by his illustrious partners. So let’s take a second to point out the obvious: Haden’s immaculately tasteful, tuneful, and consistently surprising accompaniment throughout. He never relies on mere technique and sculpts alternately primal and complex runs in the service of the tunes. No matter how unusual, his choices always fit perfectly – as if they couldn’t have happened any other way.

“The Golden Number” is a performance with his old boss, Ornette Coleman. Those who’ve heard their excellent duet album Soapsuds, Soapsuds may think they’ve covered this ground before. But Haden and Coleman keep it fresh — by featuring Ornette on trumpet! Now, the maestro’s not best known for his prowess on this instrument and it may take a little while to get past his very particular and intentionally primitive technique.

But listen closely to the muted lyricism, the sensitive tone, the ingenious way he strings together phrases without wasting a note. The trademark interplay between Haden and Coleman is in full flower here. And wrought in this wonderful new context. Now – seriously – how about a Haden duet with Ornette on violin?

“Shepp’s Way” pairs Haden and Archie Shepp. Though the only other time the two had been recorded together was ten years earlier, at the Mama Too Tight sessions, there is no lack of mutual understanding. Shepp here is in a fairly melodic mode, channeling Sonny Rollins in tone, and wit, while creating something of a linear amble; he sounds fully engaged, yet in no hurry to complete his statement. Haden does more to set the various moods of the longish piece, as when his arco about two-thirds of the way through augurs something dark that Shepp isn’t completely willing to embrace. As with so much of Haden’s work, there is a casual depth to the performance that bears — and rewards — close attention.

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For thoughts on the other tracks on the album, see our previous Golden post.

NYers can check Haden in residence this week at the Blue Note.

Category Archie Shepp, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman

3 Responses to Mellow Gold (Part Two)

  1. Great stuff! I prefer the Haden-Ornette duet “O.C.” on Closeness, his first duets album, but it’s great to have both.

    I’d love it if you reposted the live recording of Prime Time that had James Blood Ulmer filling in.

  2. The original vinyl had a transcription of Ornette’s solo, as I recall, complete of slurred tones, ghost notes and all.

    The Golden Number it’s a moving performance and IMHO the peak of those two record, together with the Hampton Hawes’ track (plus the alternate).

    Here, at the end of a slow and tentative diatonic downwards run (around 2:56), the two men lock in four bars of a calypso. The mood is at that point so poignant and bittersweet to bring tears to my eyes.

  3. The Golden Mean in maths actually refers to a ratio of two sides of a (supposedly perfect) rectangle, not a square. To be precise, it’s a rectangle where the ratio of the larger side to the smaller is equal to the ratio of the sum of the two sides to the larger. In numbers, it’s 1.61803399:1.

    And since this is my first post to DO I’d hate for it to be entirely on a pedantic note, since I love the blog and am enjoying haden & ornette too, so thanks for all the music and inspirational writing too…!