Dafnis Prieto's Si o Si Quartet with Peter Apfelbaum were spectacular openers on the last day of the 12th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival, Sunday June 13th. Prieto's tremendous change of pace, brilliant rhythms, tonal perfection made you forget at times he is a drummer --- and when he did a racing 'SCAT' that was reminiscent of South Indian vocal ragas, he brought the house down.
Actually, the setting was not the interior of an auditorium but an idyllic lawned amphitheatre at Rodney Strong Vineyards and Winery just outside of Healdsburg. The weather was perfect with clear skies and a slight breeze, and you could literally lay back on the grass and take off on Prieto's magic carpet as he and his contingent explored advanced jazz concepts and their own compositions. Joined by multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum (who excels with the sax and clarinet) and fellow Cubano Manual Valera on piano, the set was totally innovative, enchanting and challenging to the audience.
Next came Gretchen Parlato whose ethereal voice was a relaxing bridge before the final act. Excellent arrangements and support staff (Taylor Eigsti on piano, Alan Hampton on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums) allowed for her precise voice to be heard as she worked through a series of tunes from Stevie Wonder to Wayne Shorter.
Pianist Jason Moran and the Bandwagon (Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums) with Bill Frisell on guitar were just right for the closing act. Whether working through a cacophonous intro or stringing together melodious explorations, Moran was on the top of his game. For those of you who caught him at Snug Harbor this year, I must say he has grown since then. Confident and willing to reach, his new material and approach to contemporary jazz can be found on his latest Blue Note
album "TEN" being released this week.
The Healdsburg Jazzfest has to be one of the finest small "fests" in America. From start to finish it is done in California wine country style with grace and excellence. More than enough to chose from --- be it Esperanza Spalding or Charlie Hayden, Brazilian legends to the San Francisco Youth Jazz Ensemble --- this is one of those little known jewels available to jazz aficionados. The music was great, the ambiance of the vineyards almost mystical, and the relatively small crowds made the events personal and beautiful.
Jelly Roll's advice: Make plans now for next year's 13th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival.
One suggestion: They could use some of our Jazz Fest food booths at the events.