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SFJazz Collective: Live 2007: 4th Annual Concert Tour

SFJAZZ Collective’s new two-disc set, drawn from a recent tour, is likely the last to be led by saxophonist Joshua Redman, who has left the group, presumably because he has moved back east. The new album deserves two reviews, because it is actually two distinct records. The first, comprising 12 tunes by Thelonious Monk, is pretty good. The second, with all originals, is a knockout.

You have heard Monk’s tunes covered so many times that only the most original appropriations stand out anymore. SJAZZ Collective almost gets there. The octet’s program begins with Monk’s most difficult composition, “Brilliant Corners,” and the musicians handle it deftly. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s arrangement of “Epistrophy,” with its counter-rhythms and slight Latin flavor, is the highlight here; the dynamic interplay of drummer Eric Harland and pianist Renee Rosnes serves as the piece’s thrust. The disc ends with a fast, funky take of “Bright Mississippi” that gives everyone a chance to solo. Yet despite some interesting arrangements, and at the risk of comparing the group to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, many of the interpretations fail to rise above museum objects.

This is what can happen when some of jazz’s top practitioners gather, compose for one another and play with unbridled enthusiasm. Disc two comprises five long tunes plus one three-part suite, each of the six pieces written by a different player-Rosnes’ romp “Lion’s Gate” is particularly zesty. The compositions must have been bare outlines, because what shines through are both the collective’s aggregate sound and the individuality of the players. That may seem like a dichotomy, but it makes sense: The aesthetic favors the individual, offering space to breathe and stretch, something that was not offered to the musicians on the Monk disc.

Originally Published