Once you've taken possession of a sophisticated new machine, you naturally want to give it a thorough break-in drive, see what the little baby can do.
So it is this week as SFJAZZ settles into its stylish new Hayes Valley headquarters with a series of concerts that promise to show the remarkable capabilities of the center's main 700-seat performance hall. The results were impressive on all counts Thursday night, as a crew of jazz legends, next-generation icons and more gave the hall its first proper concert (following Wednesday's gala opening).
Precise, nimble handling? This is a place where you get every note, every nuance. The hall's astounding acoustics were perhaps most grandly evident in pianist Eric Reed's gorgeously nuanced reading of McCoy Tyner's "Contemplation," a performance that revealed so much depth and detail that by the end, I couldn't help sinking into a little morose reflection over all the musical information that must have vanished into the ether during three decades of performances in sub-optimal surroundings.
Creature comforts? With sensibly proportioned seats, cupholders (for enjoying Charles Phans' potent cocktails) and modern restroom capacity, I can't imagine I was the only one feeling a bit pampered by the end of the evening.
Flexibility? Any space that can seamlessly morph from a lilting violin-vibes duo (Regina Carter and Stefon Harris finding improbably sublime common ground between the instruments) to a full-throated, large-ensemble riff on Stevie Wonder (the SFJAZZ Collective swatting for the fences on "Higher Ground") should be able to handle anything a musician can dream up.
Seismic integrity? If the joint can handle the jackhammer left hand of legendary pianist McCoy Tyner, the focus of Thursday's blow-out, the San Andreas fault ought to be no problem.
Besides the thrill of experiencing the new hall, much of the pleasure Thursday came from soaking up the goodwill SFJAZZ has built up among the jazz elite, evident in the way everyone happily did their part, big or small. Saxophone marvel Joshua Redman only got one song, but his luminous duo with Tyner had you thinking "John who?" a few bars in. Vibes legend Bobby Hutcherson, his physical stamina waning but his imagination and determination as strong as ever, teamed up with Tyner and wild-card guitarist Bill Frisell for a profoundly swinging "Blues on the Corner" and with the collective for a celebratory closing romp with "Fly with the Wind."
As Tyner and Hutcherson embraced at the end, choking up memories and maybe a sense that their art was finally getting a chunk of the social respect it deserves,
The SFJAZZ opening blowout continues through the weekend, with limited tickets for shows tonight and Saturday featuring a similar but differently arranged cast of jazz masters.
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