Album Preview: Charlie Haden and Hank Jones – ‘Come Sunday’

(Listen to this album in its entirety for a limited time at NPR’s First Listen page. Go to the “Listen to Albums” page at the top of my site here for an evolving list of websites where you can hear albums streaming on the web.)

courtesy of Decca Records

2012 is off to a glorious start, musically speaking, if this album is any indication. Due out January 10, Come Sunday by bassist Charlie Haden  and pianist Hank Jones is a beautiful, beautiful recording that features truly uplifting tunes. (On a related note, Charlie Haden will be honored with a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award on Tuesday evening, January 10, 2012.) From the opening notes of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” you begin to be transported and no matter what religion you hold dear, or none at all, this music is deeply moving.

This is a perfect example of what I call “Sunday morning music” (and in this case it is quite literally Sunday morning music) – on the quiet side, lyrical, meditative, melodious. The album is a distillation of mostly familiar spirituals and hymns from the American Christian tradition, including a couple of Christmas tunes, sometimes played with a sprightly verve and sometimes with a more prayerful quietude.

 “Before music there was silence, and the duet format allows you to build from the silence in a very special way.” – Charlie Haden, from his website.

Photo by Cheung Ching Ming, courtesy of Decca Records

A follow-up to their 1995 Grammy-nominated album Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns and Folk SongsCome Sunday is an album by two of the jazz world’s masters playing at their best. And it may serve as one of the lasting reminders of Jones’ gentle genius: he passed away at the age of 91 in May of 2010, just three months after this recording was made.

Both of these men grew up playing music and had strong connections with these kinds of tunes. Charlie Haden, whose career in jazz has spanned from the avant grade to the standards, grew up in Iowa playing country music in the Haden Family Band throughout the midwest. (And did you know that actor/musician Jack Black is Haden’s son-in-law? I didn’t until I was researching this story.) Hank Jones started playing music at an early age and is the eldest of the three Jones brothers who became part of the jazz elite: trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Elvin Jones were both giants in their own right.

The soul soothing rendition of classical composer Antonin Dvorak’s “Going Home” may be the highlight  for me on an album full of highlights. It’s such a beautiful tune and so lovingly played here. In the early twentieth century, the melody for “Going Home” was borrowed from the “Largo” movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” and adapted into a hymn. Dvorak’s symphony itself was partially influenced by folk songs and African-American spirituals. And knowing (as we do now) that Hank Jones passed away just three months after recording the album, it makes hearing this song especially poignant.

Photo by Cheung Ching Ming, courtesy of Decca Records

The session ends fittingly with the title track, a classic from the Duke Ellington songbook, “Come Sunday,” taken from Ellington’s expansive jazz symphony Black, Brown and BeigeIn a soulful reading of this tune that bridges the worlds of spiritual and popular music, Jones and Haden swing us sweetly home.

Photo by Cheung Ching Ming, courtesy of Decca Records

At 43 minutes long this album comes in a bit short of most church services, but it has that same power of lifting up your spirit and carrying you through the days ahead. Amen to brother Hank and brother Charlie for Come Sunday.

Further Exploration

Charlie Haden website

Hank Jones website

New York Times obituary for Hank Jones

Decca/EmArcy Records pages for Come Sunday 

Hear samples from Steal Away at Verve Records

NPR’s story about the Charlie Haden Family & Friends album Rambling Boy

National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters

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