CHARLIE HADEN AND KENNY BARRONNight and the City (Verve)
Charlie Haden is not an underappreciated bassist. It would be foolish to embark on a list of his credits, for fear of leaving out a few thousand. But if everybody loves Haden, how come nobody copies him? His dexterity and speed aren't intimidating, so the answer must be that you can't copy the things that make him most valuable: his feel, his sense of structure, his ability to make any musician sound better.
The latest player to benefit from the Haden atmosphere is pianist Kenny Barron, and the two are just similar enough and just different enough to make an ideal duo. Barron is taste. If he offers any harmonic oddities, he's so subtle about it that you'd almost think he's embarrassed at the indulgence. On Night and the City's seven mood-soaked ballads, he gets his effects from the way he varies speeds while maintaining the flow of his precisely articulated flurries and arpeggios of meaty notes.
Barron's wind-tossed ship responds best given an oak rudder, which happens to be Haden's middle name. When Haden's heavy throb first enters, after Barron's raindrop intro to his own “Twilight Song,” it's like a big hand on the shoulder. From then on Haden points decisively from one preordained but surprising destination to the next. Rarely will you be able to follow two individual trains of thought this clearly.
Each cut advertises a new attraction: Haden's three-dimensional sound-shaping and melodic phrasing on “For Heaven's Sake,” Barron's deft Monk quote on “Body and Soul,” Haden's one-note virtuosity on “Spring Is Here,” Barron's hopeful poignancy on “The Very Thought of You.” If there's a fault, it's that Night and the City – recorded live in Manhattan and backdropped with clinking glasses and rattling bus trays – is like cognac: too rich to drink the whole bottle. The tough part is saying when.