Genre-bending Josh Haden and Spain at Tin Angel

Josh Haden has had it good. 

The genre-bending bassist, singer, and songwriter has moved his band Spain through distanced, noir-pop efforts (as in 1999's She Haunts My Dreams) tinged by abstract jazz and slow-core country toward the moody yet direct sound of 2014's Sargent Place. One of Haden's most haunting songs, "Spiritual," has been covered by dance-electro acts (Soulsavers) and classic C&W crooners (Johnny Cash). Plus, Haden was graced with a father, Charlie Haden (who died in July), whose work and liberated political ideology helped change the shape of jazz to come. 

"Freedom in music and societal freedom went hand in hand for my dad," says Haden, summing up his father's work as a bassist, composer, and firebrand. "He spoke his mind to political power and didn't care about the consequences." 

Two weeks ago, a huge tribute to the elder Haden at Town Hall in Manhattan included Josh Haden and his father's closest collaborators (Pat Metheny, Carla Bley), sons of collaborators (Denardo Coleman, son of Ornette), and comedian Richard Lewis ("they were like yin and yang; he would tell Richard jokes, and Richard would tell Dad to stop torturing him"). Mention Ravi Coltrane (John's son, who played sax at the Town Hall event), Matthew Garrison (Jimmy's son, who runs a Brooklyn jazz performance space), Joshua Redman (Dewey's son), or Eagle-Eye Cherry (Don's kid), and Haden says there is an unspoken understanding among the children of the avant-garde.

"We're around the same age and have similar upbringings - not just musical, but musical from a certain uncompromising point of view," Haden says. "Don Cherry used to say one of his dreams was for all the jazz kids to do a world tour together."

As delicious as that concept is, it must wait for Spain. Haden's current tour of the East Coast was 15 years in the making, with the latest album taking two years to complete. "I thought Spain was a pretty unique concept and would attract attention," Haden says of his band's 1995 start and first album, The Blue Moods of Spain. As for the long wait between albums and tours, Haden says, "I'm like my dad in this way: I don't compromise my vision. I signed to a major, and everything went to hell. When it comes to my music, nobody tells me what to do unless I let them."

Haden renews his connection to the blues on Sargent Place songs such as "In My Soul" and "From the Dust." "Listening to John Lee Hooker's 'It Serves You Right to Suffer' - the only album he recorded for the Impulse! label - made me want to quit playing punk rock and start playing blues," Haden says. "The honesty and combination of the simple and complex without being pretentious appealed to me." 

"You and I" is a gentle, elegiac song the two Hadens recorded together at the elder bassist's house. "My dad loved the song, said it was quiet, subtle, and didn't want to overplay," Haden says. "After it was mixed, I gave it to my dad, and he told me he couldn't stop listening to it." 

There's much to embrace on Sargent Place: Loss. Pain. Love's saving power. Much focuses on his father's final illness yet without overdoing the sentiment. That's a lesson Haden got from his pop about the importance of improvising and how it teaches you to stay in the moment, "not to think about pasts or futures, just what you're experiencing now. One must apply this lesson to life in general. I stay in this ethereal place when I'm writing so I don't get sentimental or too sentimentally ironic."

Father knows best, but the son makes it sing.

A.D. Amorosi
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