First Listen: Charlie Haden And Hank Jones, 'Come Sunday'
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It's quiet music that's deeply involving. Get a pair of headphones — not earbuds — and listen closely. Better yet, sit down in front of a pair of speakers and crank it up. You can hear Hank Jones working the pedals and Charlie Haden grabbing the strings. It's as if you're in the front pew of the church in the Walker Evans photo that graces the cover of 1995's Steal Away, the first album of duets between these giants (an overused descriptor, but it's right on in this case).
Come Sunday, out Jan. 10, was recorded nearly 16 years after that initial collaboration. Three months after this two-day session ended, Jones was gone — dead at the age of 91. His playing here is just stunningly beautiful. It's spare, but every note is radiant. He forces you to stop and pay attention. It's as if he knew this music would carry him off.
It's music Jones heard and sang as a child in Pontiac, Mich., where he grew up. Haden sang this music, too — from the other side of the color line — as part of the Haden Family, which brought gospel to Iowa radio stations. As Georgetown University professor Maurice Jackson writes in his liner notes to both Steal Away and Come Sunday, blacks and whites sang the hymns included on these albums, but the spirituals came from the African and African-American experience and their meaning extends beyond religion. They're songs of struggle and the quest for freedom.
Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak understood the importance of this music. Haden and Jones play their interpretation of his "Going Home" on Come Sunday, and Jackson includes a prescient quote from the composer in the liner notes: "This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States. ... These are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them."
Hearing Jones and Haden play this music with such simple grace and power, you know Dvorak was right.