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SFJAZZ Collective: 10–10th Anniversary: Best of-Live at the SFJAZZ Center

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The founding template for the SFJAZZ Collective, devised by saxophonist Joshua Redman and executive artistic director Randall Kline in 2004, was a stroke of genius. Recruit a stellar octet of musician-composers and underwrite a residency, tour and recording each year that has each member both freshening the catalog of a post-1960 icon and contributing an original song. Over the past decade, this concept has yielded 75 new arrangements of songs by figures ranging from Ornette Coleman and Wayne Shorter to Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea and Stevie Wonder-and 71 original works from 24 past and present members of the octet.

For its 10th anniversary, SFJAZZ decided to depart from its formula and draw from that legacy instead of generating more material for its annual bevy of concerts. The organization pared four nights of performances at the SFJAZZ Center in October 2013 down to 10 tracks. The only misstep in dubbing this collection a Best of is that the stylistic breadth of excellence is too wide and the quality control too consistent over the decade to credibly make such a claim.

It’s hard enough determining the “best” song on this Best of collection. Traditionalists might opt for Gil Goldstein’s arrangements of Herbie Hancock’s “And What If I Don’t” and John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” which hints at the rhythmic panache and jocular veneer more common to Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Fans of ensemble continuity might be more partial to the contributions of the last remaining founding member, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, who engages in a long, thrilling saxophone duet with tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, his mentor and fellow Puerto Rican, in the midst of former drummer Eric Harland’s crowd-pleasing toe-tapper “Union.”

Best of reaches back to the inaugural year of SFJAZZ for Zenón’s dazzling “Lingala,” and includes Zenón’s Caribbean-limned arrangement of Monk’s “San Francisco Holiday.” Actually, fans of new blood in the ensemble will also gravitate to these tunes, as vibraphonist Warren Wolf highlights his SFJAZZ debut with a quicksilver solo on “Lingala,” and fellow newcomer Obed Calvaire retains the intensity of the Zenón- Sánchez roustabout with his own pyrotechnics on the drums to close out “Union.”

Meanwhile, fans of sophisticated composition will clamor on behalf of the grab-bag of angles former trumpeter Dave Douglas fashioned into “Alcatraz,” or the atmospheric suite concocted by current bassist Matt Penman on “Frosted Evils.” Bottom line, there are joys tucked into every track, from the way Stefon Harris blends vibes and piano on his arrangement of Wonder’s “Visions” to the staccato-yet-catchy melodic vamp current trombonist Robin Eubanks invokes, à la his mentor, Dave Holland, on “More Than Meets the Ear.”

In 2014 the SFJAZZ Collective went back to tackling a specific modern master-this time the knotty tenorman Joe Henderson. Global jazz will also get its due with new works from natives of Puerto Rico (Sánchez and Zenón), New Zealand (Penman), Venezuela (pianist Edward Simon) and Israel (trumpeter Avishai Cohen), along with Americans Wolf, Eubanks and Calvaire. The genius template has fostered an evolving treasure.

Originally Published