The San Francisco Jazz Collective, founded two years ago, is like a school society set up by the bright kids and overseen by an elderly teacher. The youthful artistic director is Joshua Redman, tenor saxophonist son of the avant-garde tenorist Dewey Redman, and around him are to be found other A-graders, including the Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes, the New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton, the unimpeachable Eric Harland on drums and the omnipresent Gil Goldstein (almost no recording seems complete without his presence nowadays) as "arrangement consultant".
The generation link is provided by Bobby Hutcherson, who was playing vibes when the musicians to whom the group pays tribute - Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock - were bright young hopefuls themselves.
The octet appeared on stage 20 minutes late, after a spoken introduction by Redman, a polite young man who fully possesses the reassuring manner of the doctor he thought of becoming after he graduated from Harvard. This unusual and rather lengthy preamble done, the SF Jazz Collective then launched straight into "And What If I Don't", an attractive but somewhat neglected number from an early recording by Herbie Hancock, whose work the group is concentrating on this year.
Goldstein is credited as "arranger" on the Hancock compositions, although on the loping, chugging blues of the opener it didn't sound as if he had to do much more than transcribe what was on the disc, so faithful was the rendition (right down to the slightly off intonation of Andre Hayward's trombone, although I suspect that was not intentional).
This leads us straight into the ever-raging debate about revivalism. If such a number was recorded perfectly more than 40 years ago, why reproduce it? My view is that there is an argument against recording the same tunes again, if they are tributes/copies. But live - well, why not?
The collective performed a beautiful version of Hancock's "Maiden Voyage", a vehicle for a subtle, contemplative solo by Hutcherson that quietly built up from the number's distinctive rhythmic stops into blustery weather and then sailed back into more tranquil waters.
If the group had confined themselves to Hancock's oeuvre, this would probably have been a four-star review; such was the brilliance of some of the solos, notably those of Nicholas Payton, whose lusciously fat yet whistle-clean tone promised pleasures so sensual that a lengthy spell in the confessional threatened.
But the group also contributed their own compositions, which, just like the efforts of the most studious 16-year-olds, showed promise but not maturity. Compared with Hancock's masterpieces, their narratives did little to arrest the listener. Nice work, kids. But next time, just stick to the set texts.