he fourth and final night of the SFJAZZ Collective’s home turf residency
was an extended single-set performance combining the music of Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea
, McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane with original compositions from the ensemble’s nine-year back catalogue. It was a swaggering performance from first to last, and it brought out the ingenious make-up of this impressive octet.
The front line of two saxophones, trumpets and trombones use all the big band’s riffs and colours and add devices and shapes of their own invention. The extended “Grand Opening”, written by saxophonist Miguel Zenón, celebrated last January’s opening of the purpose-built SFJAZZ Center. A veneer of brass broke into polyphony, sparse rhythm became surging drums, there were sudden breaks and phrases passed around, silky swing, a false ending and finally, out of the blue, three skewed stabs of brass. Avishai Cohen’s “Home Is Where”, a wistful sound-portrait of life on the road, put a single motif through many changes, while “Half Full”, written by former member Joshua Redman, switched from soulful brass over hip-hop beats to imperious solos over polyrhythmic swing.
There is the same sense of adventure in their re-interpretations of the classic modernist repertoire. The clear lines and sterling structures remain, but now there are bits added on – a bravura intro, a slinky fade over rattling beats or, for McCoy Tyner’s “Fly With The Wind”, portentous Wagnerian trombone. And as the soloists took flight, and supporting horns riffed and stabbed, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire captured the swing of a bygone era.
But this is much more than a composer/arrangers’ workshop. Each musician is a strong character who spices his modernism with a different root. Trombonist Robin Eubanks is earthy and rhythmic while trumpeter Cohen is brittle and left-field. Both saxophonists are from Puerto Rico, but David Sanchez’s spacey pyrotechnics are a marked contrast to Zenón’s closely articulated lines, while the mallets-blurring Warren Wolf makes the vibraphone shimmer with the blues. All this adds to the colour and contrast.
It was a terrific gig, full of suspense and surprise, and it saved the best until last. “Union”, written by former drummer Eric Harland, boogied and boiled, the saxophonists bobbed as they jousted, there was piano trio jazz and a growing thunder of drums for a climax.