Picks and Pans Review: Dream Keeper
Bassist and free-jazz insurrectionary Charlie Haden is an idealist who believes the world would be a better place if our leaders listened to the cries of the dispossessed. In the liner notes to Dream Keeper, he offers this grand statement of purpose: "Hopefully this album conveys the necessity for every human being to work toward appointing people to positions of government leadership who possess insight, intelligence, compassion and a commitment to human rights."
Haden founded the Liberation Music Orchestra, a jazz collective that now includes 16 musicians, during the Vietnam era. For its eponymous 1969 debut (MCA reissues), the group incorporated revolutionary anthems from the Spanish Civil War in a free-jazz tapestry that reflected the turbulence of the times. Adopting a more somber tone on Ballad of the Fallen (ECM), recorded in 1983, Haden and company paid tribute to peasants killed in fighting in Central America.
The Oakland Youth Chorus joins the orchestra on Dream Keeper, a collection of avant-garde marching music that is both uplifting and cathartic. The title tune, a 17-minute suite inspired by a Langston Hughes poem, begins with a solemn bass solo by Haden and features several Latin folk melodies that are lent an air of majesty by Carla Bley's brass and choral arrangements. Tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman's soaring solo on "Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika (Anthem of the African National Congress)" transforms the martial melody into an exalted celebration of freedom. And tenor-man Branford Marsalis and pianist Amina Claudine Myers strut their Sunday best on "Spiritual," a gospel style tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X.
Musically, this album is a universal triumph. Politically, its general message is best expressed in a verse from "Rabo de Nube (Tail of the Tornado)," by Cuban composer Silvio Rodriguez: "If they asked me to make a wish/ I would ask for the tail of a tornado/ That would carry off all ugliness/ And leave us the cherub." (Blue Note)