Post-Bop Legends Out to Play at SF Jazz

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Two of the members of the groundbreaking John Coltrane Quartet played Sunday, drummer Elvin Jones's five-piece band shining above pianist McCoy Tyner, encumbered with a big band.

Since they left the Coltrane Quartet, in 1965, both Jones and Tyner have had illustrious careers with their own bands. Jones brought his quintet, the Jazz Machine, and Tyner his fifteen-piece big band, to the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco.

Since it was Jones's seventy-fifth birthday, it was appropriate that Tyner opened the concert. "Passion Dance," the fast, brassy, opening number, was propelled by a powerful rhythm section, anchored, of course, by Tyner, and also by Aaron Scott's wild drumming and Avery Sharpe's expressive bass.

The piece derived an interesting texture from the repetition of riffs across the band, with some members at any time weaving in their own variations. The horn lines were a bit boring and the melodies conventional, though, dulling the piece's impact.

The set progressed in the same way. Tyner's playing was both thoughtful and vigorous, and his sidemen's work was good, too, but their interactions weren't tight enough.

With a bulky fifteen-member group, Tyner was perhaps unable to get the lucidity he might have desired from his band. Jones, however, had no such problem.

Jones strode out wearing a white robe and thanked the fan who shouted out, "Happy birthday!" His bassist, Gerald Cannon, started with a stylish riff, and the band launched into "The Lone Warrior," written by the trombonist, Delfeayo Marsalis, a more emotional brother to the famous Wynton.

As the band joined in, the contrast between a small and a large band became obvious. Jones's band was far more nimble and clean than Tyner's somewhat shakier big band.

An original rendition of the standard, "What a Wonderful World," followed, notable for its tenderness, even through the uptempo parts.

The group's third song, "Soran-Bushi," was based on a Japanese fishermen's folk song. Jones's cloth mallets made his solo at the start of the piece sound surprisingly like Japanese taiko drumming. His rhythms and the piece's pentatonic modes recalled the Coltrane Quartet's work, which introduced Asian themes to jazz.

Often, during this piece and others in the set, Marsalis and the saxophonist, Pat LeBarbera, would retreat and leave just Jones, Cannon and the pianist, Anthony Wonsey, to work intricate rhythms.

The soprano saxophone often gets flak for its, well, wimpy sound. In LaBarbera's hands (and mouth), though, the soprano showed it could be as intense as it is boring when Kenny G plays it.

Tyner came up for the obligatory joint number, which did a good job of showing his talent. Wonsey's piano playing was adequate, but it shriveled next to Tyner's virtuosity.

As an encore, the Jazz Machine played another standard, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got that Swing)," which illustrated their comfort with strong melodies.

Both groups played an enjoyable concert, rising to peaks of emotion, but the Jazz Machine's focus made its music more urgent.


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