What promise the night held. Charlie Haden was having one of his "& Friends" nights at the Comeback Inn on Friday evening. Scheduled to join the bassist were flutist James Newton and pianist Alice Coltrane. Surely, the evening would offer something more than another reading of "Autumn Leaves," another variation on "Satin Doll."
The Comeback Inn is a neat little place in Venice that portends to nourish the body and soul. They serve only vegetarian meals and smoking is not allowed. They do, however, serve beer and wine, which, to the widow of John Coltrane, is a spiritual no-no.
She came (late), she saw (tsk, tsk), she left. Veni, vidi, split.
Too bad. A better, more attentive audience has yet to be found in 25 years of hanging out in jazz clubs. If Coltrane had anything musical to say, she missed a great opportunity by choosing to speak as a moralist rather than an artist.
Be all that as it may, Haden and Newton had plenty to say and did so in an absolutely splendid rendering of four tunes. The emptiness one might expect from flute and bass duets was never noticed. Haden walked and soloed with grace and style as Newton floated his profound musical ideas over a delightfully rhythmic backdrop.
Two compositions by Ornette Coleman--"Turn Around" and "Lonely Woman"--were featured in the evening's first set, with Haden, fleet-fingered and pitch-perfect, playing the part of a three-man rhythm section in both tunes. Newton, with his virtuosic technique, stated thematic material with crystalline clarity before allowing his imaginative improvisations to expand the written lines.
The duo's realization of "Blue Monk," a composition by Thelonious Monk, was a swinging tour de force as the two stretched out on the tune. Haden's compositional talents came to the fore during "In the Moment," a hard-swinging, lively tune that featured the bassist in an adventurous solo outing.
Haden and Newton should seriously consider re-creating their Friday-night venture on record. It was a beautiful, high-art experience that challenged the mind and stirred the soul.