You’d be hard-pressed to find better jazz than a performance of the San Francisco Jazz Collective. Bigger than a combo, smaller than a big band, the swing is just right. The four-piece rhythm section and four horns sport royal pedigrees and gold-standard abilities, but more, the SFJAZZ Collective was born as an act of homage, and maintains a measure of egoless-ness readily evident in both arrangements and the restraint of its soloists. The integrity of the project has stayed intact over ten years, despite personnel turnover, proving the soundness of the founding idea. That idea is the annual honoring of a modern jazz master with new arrangements of essential tunes and new tunes inspired by the master. The tenth anniversary tour, however, is an exception, a retrospect that pulls charts from past years, honoring Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, Horace Silver, and Thelonious Monk.
Fancy time signatures and gorgeous horn choruses painted the performance as a whole. Shorter’s “Armageddon” featured extended alto sax work by Miguel Zenón, and a window into the brilliance of vibraphone wonder Warren Wolf, whose pressure-cooker intensity blew a mallet from his hand mid-solo, to the delight of the audience. Bassist Matt Penman’s “Frosted Evils” put trumpeter Avishai Cohen in chatty dialogue with Zenón, but Cohen really stretched out on the hard-bop intro to Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave.”
You might expect a larger ensemble like this to go dizzy in rotation of soloists, but the SFJC gives extended essays to only one or two players per song, keeping the program fresh with anticipation, as new voices are revealed gradually.