The SFJazz Collective is a bellwether band in jazz, looking ahead as it consolidates past trends. Its eight members are excellent blues and swing players, but they also shine through all the razzle-dazzle rhythmic puzzles that characterize much modern jazz. And the group sums up jazz's growing international profile; its members are from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Israel and New Zealand, as well as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Miami.
It's a significant and serious band, the SFJazz organization's musical face, with a ton of repertory and an itinerary that includes an annual international tour or two. On Thursday, opening a four-day run and its 10th season, the group performed at its home base, the SFJazz Center. Running through material that dates as far back as its first season, in 2004, it sounded happy and loose -- and you could tell that it's going to sound even looser and deeper in the coming days as its two new members keep growing into the ensemble.
One is vibraphonist Warren Wolf, a 33-year-old native of Baltimore. This was his first show with the Collective, and he was given the most solos, letting him show off his fluid and bluesy approach, his easy and winding lines, his shimmery warmth. (He will be a counterbalance to the occasional decorousness that seeps into the group's arrangements.) The other is drummer Obed Calvaire, a 31-year-old (the band's youngest member) from Miami, who adds a new kind of premium fuel to the octet. He swings. He plays free. He plays languorous hip-hop, Puerto Rican bomba and everything else -- i.e., sizzling through those cubist rhythmic schemes.
He joined this past spring (in a pinch, replacing Jeff Ballard, who apparently wasn't a fit) and should easily settle into the drum chair, previously occupied for long stretches by Brian Blade and Eric Harland, definitive players. From its founding, the group's shifting membership has been a showcase for creative voices: tenor saxophonists Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Mark Turner and now David Sánchez (from Puerto Rico); trumpeters Nicholas Payton, Dave Douglas and now Avishai Cohen (from Israel); vibraphonists Bobby Hutcherson, Stefon Harris and now Wolf.
The Collective offers a challenge to its members: Each year, each member must compose original material for the group, while also re-arranging tunes by a seminal jazz composer. In 2004, it was Ornette Coleman. In subsequent years, the group focused on John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Chick Corea -- even Stevie Wonder. By now, its book is large; this weekend, it dips into a decade's worth of material, a "best of the Collective" approach.
The band's heart -- a founding member, the only one left -- is alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, also from Puerto Rico.
His sound is throbbing; you feel an almost tropical humidity in his ripe cries, which open into swerving cascades of gem-cut notes as he solos. On Thursday, the group played his tune "Lingala," which is from the first season and incorporates rhythmic approaches from West Africa to the Caribbean and Elvin Jones. It also played his arrangement -- a charmer, from 2007 -- of Monk's "San Francisco Holiday," which blends Monk's relaxed gait with lilting bomba and salsa-ish firecracker outbursts for the horns. (Thursday would have been Monk's 96th birthday.)
Out of a hat, I'd pick the gorgeously meditative solo played by bassist Matt Penman (from New Zealand) as an introduction to "Psalm for Peggy," composed by Hutcherson. Silver's famous "Song for My Father" was given a unique Afro-Cuban arrangement, in 7/4 time, by pianist Edward Simon (from Venezuela), and gained traction as trombonist Robin Eubanks (from Philadelphia) drilled into his solo, inciting the rhythm section. As an encore, there was Hancock's "And What If I Don't," super-swinging, with a tartly squeezed solo by Cohen, blues man from Tel Aviv.
More good things are coming through the weekend. Be there.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday,
4 p.m. Sunday
Where: SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., San Francisco
Tickets: $25-$65, 866-920-5299, www.sfjazz.org
Also: Family matinee 11 a.m. Saturday, $5-$15