It should come as no surprise that Land of the Sun, a collection of Mexican ballads written by three of Mexico's most prominent modern composers, is yet another chapter in Charlie Haden's continually unfolding musical biography. Haden was given a folder of songs by the late and legendary Mexican composer José Sabre Marroquín by his daughter as a thank-you for his recording of "Nocturnal." Haden went over the tunes and decided to record some of them; he turned them over to pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba for arranging, employed a stellar band, and Land of the Sun is the end result.
What a result. There are eight compositions by Marroquín and one each by Augustín Lara and Armando Manzanero, in their own right prolific and revered songwriters who have been recorded in this country by Presley, Sinatra, and Bennett, to name a few. The band assembled for this project is stellar -- Joe Lovano, Ignacio Berroa, Rubalcaba, Miguel Zenón, Oriente Lopez, Larry Koonse, Lionel Loueke, Michael Rodriguez, and Juan De La Cruz. Rubalcaba's charts don't transform the songs into jazz tunes, but rather become an entryway for melodic improvisation, rhythmic invention, and group interplay.
Rubalcaba's front-line interaction with Lovano, Zenón, and Rodriguez -- especially on "De Siempre" -- is emotionally honest and musically inspiring. "Nostalgia," introduced by Spanish guitar, percussion, and piano, is a wonderful springlike bittersweet melody wrapped in a languid rhythm and made poignant first by Rodriguez, and then Zenón, before the guitars waft back in. Lara's "Solamenta una Vez" is arranged for trio here. Rubalcaba's solo, with its shifting ostinati and alternating chordal and single-note runs, is breathtaking. Lovano's lyricism on "Esta Tarde Vi Llover," by Manzanero, is played in his best Ben Webster. With skittering brush work by Berroa, Lovano accents the tune's similarities to "A Kiss Is Just a Kiss" before turning it over to Rubalcaba, who extrapolates the harmony and opens it up against De La Cruz's bongos. Land of the Sun is a deeply romantic album, but it is lush without artificial ornamentation or affectation. Musically, its refinement is such that it begs critical as well as casual listening. Hopefully this won't be the last such exercise from Haden and Rubalcaba, but an introduction.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
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