SFJazz Collective Live 2008
The SFJAZZ Collective is an egalitarian wonder, equally concerned with where the music has been and where it’s going. Every year, the evolving octet of jazz all-stars concentrates on the compositions of an established pioneer—for 2008, it was Wayne Shorter. Each member of the Collective arranges one of the pioneer’s compositions for the ensemble, and each of them composes a new work for the band. Then after premiering the arrangements and new compositions at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, the octet takes the product on tour and refines it.
You can hear the riches of this ritual, itself gradually refined since 2004, in this three-CD set available in a limited edition at sfjazz.org. Everybody sounds deeply invested in this leaderless collective.
Every track is a discovery, and you will not find a weak link in the ensemble. If there’s one fairly unique component to this ensemble that makes its sound unique, it’s vibraphonist Stefon Harris, a member since 2007. Yes, he rocks the house every time he solos, or blesses it with Crystal Silence sublimity. But Harris also grafts himself onto the traditional rhythm section, giving a new face to the underpinnings of the music. Or he’s a section unto himself with Joe Lovano and Miguel Zenón on reeds, Dave Douglas and Robin Eubanks a formidable brass section, and pianist Renee Rosnes anchoring the rhythm with Matt Penman and Eric Harland.
You can actually listen to these four layers piling onto each other in Zenón’s “Frontline.” But it’s Harland’s kaleidoscopic “The Year 2008” that steals the show, prophetically inviting ML King and the Declaration of Independence to the celebration. Other standout originals include Douglas’ “Secrets of the Code” and Harris’ “The Road to Dharma.” Shorter’s best? Try the arrangements of “Infant Eyes” (Lovano), “Go” (Harris), “El Gaucho” (Penman), and “Black Nile” (Eubanks). Essential.