Picks and Pans Review: Now Is the Hour
What is the difference between pretty and beautiful? One answer suggested by Haden's superb new album is that pretty plays it safe while beauty takes chances. Two chances that Quartet West took involve recording with strings—which can more easily cloy and suffocate than ennoble—and laying down the tracks live in the studio, without the safety net of over-dubs. Now is the hour, indeed.
This may be the hour as well for Quartet West—at 10 years and counting, one of the most experienced working bands in jazz. Following 1993's sub-par Always Say Goodbye, the group rebounds fully to put Hour, its fifth album, on the same high level as 1992's landmark Haunted Heart. (In the interest of full disclosure, it must be said that this reviewer is one of eight people at Time Inc. thanked in Hour's liner notes for helping Haden secure an old LIFE photo for the album cover. Rarely have thanks been so unwarranted.)
The joy, sadness and humor that permeate this richly melodic disc stem from the distinctive sound of each musician: bassist Haden, pianist Alan Broad-bent, drummer Larance Marable and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, whose sound is a contradiction—soft, but with an edge. Watts is thoughtful, lyrical; economical. There is, actually, one word for his work here and for the whole of this deep, affecting record: Beautiful. (Verve)