It’s gonna be a Charlie Haden kind of weekend opening the Healdsburg Jazz Festival this year, with big names like Ravi Coltrane, Lee Konitz, Jason Moran, Charles Lloyd, Fred Hersch, Bill Frisell and many, many more performing at the best little jazz festival in the world running May 31–June 9.
Haden, who made his name with Ornette Coleman‘s famed quartet, will be the subject of a two-day tribute on June 1-2 featuring his Liberation Music Orchestra with Carla Bley and his Quartet West with Ravi Coltrane. Who else is playing the opening weekend? Try atmospheric guitar phenom Bill Frisell, invigorating pianist Geri Allen, saxophone legend Lee Konitz, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubacalba and more.
The second weekend sees Healdsburg favorite Charles Lloyd teaming up with personal fave Jason Moran in a duo setting, the Fred Hersch Trio, the Marcus Selby Orchestra with the HJF Freedom Jazz Choir and others.
Many of the headliners this year have played in Healdsburg before and are returning to the festival, but one name’s new: Lee Konitz, who made his name with Lennie Tristano and pioneered much of the “cool” jazz sound that would go on to revolutionize the music. He conducted a student workshop at SSU in 2010, and though it was a little bit unusual, his tone and conception were as good as ever.
For more info. and ticket information as it comes along, see the festival website.
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.
The lineup for the new season of SFJAZZ was announced this morning, and once again, it showcases the kind of variety and talent that’s made the ongoing festival one of the Bay Area’s jewels.
The upcoming schedule, running Oct. 3-Nov. 9, includes jazz legends like Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and the Dave Brubeck Quartet; vocalists Jimmy Scott, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Mavis Staples; new blood like Wayne Horvitz and Ravi Coltrane; world musicians Toumani Diabate and Le Trio Joubran; and, for some reason, Randy Newman.
Cecil Taylor, whom I saw about five years ago at the Palace of Fine Arts, rarely plays solo—and in Grace Cathedral, it should be insane. I saw Jimmy Scott a couple years ago at the Herbst Theatre, and he was excellent; age has only slightly slowed him down. Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra at Yoshi’s a few years back demonstrated just how relevant his 40-years-and-running project is, and I have personally seen Ravi Coltrane blow Pharaoh Sanders out of the water on stage, which is saying something.
The guy I’m most excited to see? Saxophonist Archie Shepp, who very rarely comes to the Bay Area. A force that shows no signs of diminishing, Shepp has persevered under the radar as a lesser-known avant-garde artist since his “new thing” heyday of the late 1960s, and I’m not sure what kind of group he’ll have, but in the small Herbst Theatre, how can you go wrong?
Tickets go on sale to the public on Sunday, July 13. Complete lineup and information after the jump, or you can cue it up at the festival’s official website.