San Francisco Salutes Sonny Rollins
Sanchez replaced Tabackin to close the first set. In "Pent-Up House," Sanchez, who of the tenors seemed to be the popular favorite, started off abstract, then kicked into pure bebop overdrive. Later, he would come across as a kind of musical boxer, bobbing and weaving as he sparred with the drums. But the most interesting solos belonged to Stewart and Benny Green. Stewart, representing the Oakland scene, was outstanding. His gutsy playing updated the honking, bar-walking style of classic r&b sax blowing for a post-Coltrane era. Stewart's wildness dovetailed perfectly with Green, who pulled off a tricky solo played by both hands in unison.
Lovano started off the second set alone, in an honest and heartfelt rendition of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica." Stewart, Hurst, and drummer Rodney Green joined him for a tight "East Broadway Rundown," which saw the horns weave around each other in a squeaky duet that fell into a clattery rumble. Drummer Rodney Green had a chance to show off with a rhythmic solo that Lovano accented with the disconnected mouthpiece of his tenor.
The night's big showstopper was "The Cutting Edge," which Stewart performed with the trio. This is not one of Rollins' better known compositions—Stewart had to explain the piece to his comrades before starting. But the trio came through with a great rolling post-bop groove. Stewart then put down a raw, almost spiritual lead that invoked Pharoah Sanders and Eddie Harris equally. The trio laid out for a while and let Stewart go to town on his own, digging deep for a stretch that had the audience on the edge of its seats. Benny Green got the next solo, going way down inside the chords then slowly bubbling up like a threatening volcano, finally bursting into a triumphant crescendo.
The schedule made it look unfair; how could anybody possibly follow Rollins in a tribute show and not seem somehow lacking? The answer was on the stage. Rather than being a letdown, these tenor titans were perfect counterparts to the man of honor.
When Forrest Bryant isn't writing about jazz or trying to get Thelonious Monk elevated to sainthood, he can be heard on the Bay Area airwaves as the host of a weekly radio show called "No Cover, No Minimum" (on KZSU, 90.1 FM). He also spends too much of his free time looking for things to write about, so if you're a part of the Bay Area jazz scene, drop Forrest a line and let him know what you're up to.