It has been said that the secret to comedy is timing — an element that’s just as important in improvisational jazz. Bassist Charlie Haden, who has played with artists as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and Hank Jones, has as firm a grasp on that concept as anyone, as he demonstrated with remarkable grace at this show, the kickoff of a two-week celebration of his 65th birthday.
Paired with pianist Kenny Barron — who shares his appreciation for the space between notes — Haden wove an intricate web for more than 70 minutes, his touch at once light and anchoring. For a good bit of the set, the two alternated solos, handling hand-offs with a precision worthy of an Olympic relay team, reaching back to one of their recorded teamings for a spry dissertation on Bill Evans’ “For Heaven’s Sake.”
Barron, always a fluid player, was at his most lyrical on a warm, breathy version of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean?” Haden buoyed the song with a series of compact runs that furtively explored its darker, more longing aspects — a reverse-image of the light, lissome fretwork he employed on a sparkling “Turnaround,” on which the two musicians all but exchanged high-fives when ramping up from one solo to the next.
Even when acting as a leader, Haden seldom speaks onstage, but he did so eloquently near the end of the evening’s first set, thanking those assembled for working to seek out pleasure in beauty, while chiding himself for considering his own work to be “beautiful.” Not to accuse the bassist of false modesty, but it would be difficult to find a better adjective to describe his playing on this evening — and indeed, the manner in which he’s approached even his most caustic playing over the years.
Haden’s run at the Blue Note continues through Sunday. Tuesday, he’ll be joined by pianist Paul Bley; Wednesday and Thursday will find him playing with Gonzalo Rubalcaba; Brad Mehldau will join him for the final three nights of the stint.