The piece began slowly. “Something acknowledging Hank Jones,” Geri Allen had announced. Her fingers fluttered over the piano keys, evocative of Jones’ intro to “Love for Sale,” a tribute that even in its sparest moments echoed throughout the sold-out Raven Theater.
The music took a slight turn to Allen’s “Swamini,” written in remembrance of Alice Coltrane, whereupon Ravi Coltrane made his entrance from the wings. Off-mic, he eased his sax into a sobering moan, then gradually unfolded his tone to fill one of the many open spaces in an inspired, unaccompanied cadenza.
Into the stage lights then walked Charlie Haden, a frequent Hank Jones collaborator, steering the suite to his “For Turiya,” an elegy first recorded as a duet with Alice Coltrane 35 years ago. All together, the trio comprised a suite of angular nuance, and after 14 minutes, in the moment between the final note and the audience’s applause, the history of these three musicians with those who’ve left this world hung in the air.
All three have played in far feistier settings (famously, Allen and Haden with Ornette Coleman, acknowledged in the set by “Lonely Woman”), but perhaps time and loss have tempered the pace. The ballad standard “What’ll I Do” was caressed softly by Coltrane, but for most of the material he seemed to be pulling along Haden’s languorous playing, which relied substantially on open strings, into more upbeat territory. Alas, it never followed.
The concert hadn’t started so somberly—in fact, the crowd had spontaneously sung “Happy Birthday” to Allen—but the drumless trio carried on in slow tempos and ruminative passages throughout the remainder of the set. This was nuanced music for closing one’s eyes and listening, a sublime jazz suited to the hot wine country evening.
I overheard someone remark that the show was “very Healdsburg,” by which they meant unchallenging and smooth, but the tag doesn’t fit. Meanwhile over in the Healdsburg Hotel lobby, Craig Handy played his guts out with George Cables to a packed, whooping crowd. The next day, the unstoppable Dafnis Prieto played drums like a car on five tanks of gas before Jason Moran and Bill Frisell dissected the very concept of music with otherworldly improvisations. Earlier at the Raven, the Healdsburg High School jazz band had torn through gutsy versions of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” Eddie Harris’ “Listen Here” and Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”
Oh, and about that podunk little high school jazz band you thought you could show up late to miss? Count me among the many minds blown by the miraculous Kai Devitt-Lee, staring out over the crowd while unfolding incredible solos and inventive, angular backing on guitar. “This guy’s gotta be a guest artist,” I thought, but nope–he’s 16 years old and a marvel to behold. Get used to the name, folks.