SFJAZZ Collective: Live SFJAZZ Center 2013 - The Music of Chick Corea & New Compositions
Some things change, some things stay the same. After two successive recordings and tours with an identical lineup—a first in its now 10-year history—the SFJAZZ Collective once again undergoes some minor personnel shifts. More important, however, is that Live SFJAZZ Center 2013: The Music of Chick Corea & New Compositions comes a full two years after Live in New York Season 8—Music of Stevie Wonder(SFJAZZ, 2011), the first time that the collective has not devoted itself to the music of a different composer every year, instead, touring the Stevie Wonder music from 2011 into 2012.
With each member of the octet contributing an innovative arrangement of some of Wonder’s best music along with a newly minted piece composed in the spirit of Wonder, it also represented the first time that SFJAZZ has stepped outside the clear boundaries of jazz to perform songs by a musician who, while, clearly jazz-informed, was unequivocally a soul/R&B artist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; still, it’s no surprise that every member of the collective managed to make the Wonder tune they chose to arrange and bring it into a distinctive, modern kind of mainstream. It’s been one of the trademarks of the collective since its inception in 2004, when it paid tribute to Ornette Coleman. For the collective’s first two years, SFJAZZ released both limited edition multi-disc collections with the entire set list, as well as a wider release album condensed down to a single CD, first with SFJAZZ Collective (Nonesuch, 2005), and followed by SFJAZZ Collective 2 (Nonesuch, 2006), which paid tribute to the music of John Coltrane.
Nonesuch stopped releasing single-disc editions with the third SFJAZZ season, which tookHerbie Hancock as its inspiration; but while the collective has continued to mine the music of some of jazz’s greatest pianists, including Thelonious Monk (season four), McCoy Tyner (season six) andHorace Silver (season seven), there have been some notable omissions, one of which has now been corrected with season ten, as the collective tackles the music of Chick Corea.
For its tenth year and ninth season of new music, tenor saxophonist David Sanchez replaces Mark Turnerand, like the rest of his band mates brings in an arrangement of a Corea tune—in his case, the pianist’s enduring tone poem, “Crystal Silence,” here taken from its rubato intro, with vibraphonist Stefon Harrisdelivering its familiar theme, into a more defined tempo and a much broader textural palette through the saxophonist’s wonderful use of the four-piece horn section. The Sánchez also bring s a new original to the date: the appropriately African and Mediterranean-tinged “Gibraltar,” with its mixed meters and gentle polyrhythmic activity.
Drummer Obed Calvaire stepped in, at the relative last minute, to substitute for Jeff Ballard, the original replacement for Eric Harland—the collective’s second-longest standing musician, having joined in season two and eclipsed only by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon, the collective’s last remaining founding member. SFJAZZ publicist Marshall Lamm explains why there are no compositional or arrangement contributions from this young drummer: “He joined the band right before the SFJAZZ engagement in March when the recording was made. He replaced Jeff Ballard and the other members decided for him not to bring new music as they had seven other pieces to work with.”
Still, Calvaire doesn’t have to contribute compositions or arrangements to make his mark on this double-disc set. Barely into his thirties, Calvaire’s résumé is already filled with notable appearances in the past decade, ranging from Richard Bona and the Clayton Brothers to Etienne Charles and Monty Alexander. Here, Calvaire not only brings arrangements of Corea music like pianist Edward Simon's paradoxically pensive and expressionistic rework of the classic “Spain” to new life, but drives even more outgoing tracks like trombonist Robin Eubanks' closing “Shifting Centers” with effortless ease, bolstering—despite its knotty metric shifts—a set-defining solo from Zenón. Eubanks also kicks serious ass with the closing solo of the tune and the set, bringing in the electronics that first surfaced in the Stevie Wonder set—despite employing them for years on his own albums, including EB3: Live, Vol. 1 (RKM, 2007)—along with the multiphonics that have helped define his voice both as a leader and in longstanding relationships with artists likeDave Holland.
It might seem predictable to suggest, as strong as everyone is in this group—and there’s not a weak link to be found in an ensemble capable of both delicate elegance and muscular power—that the star of Live SFJAZZ Center 2013: The Music of Chick Corea & New Compositions is its pianist, Edward Simon, but it’s the truth—and the inevitable consequence of touring with the group since 2010. Here, Simon comes to the fore as a more muscular player than usual, not just paying tribute in his approach to the seven Corea tunes and seven originals, but actually throwing in the occasional direct quote, specifically Corea’s signature ascending trills, which appear in a couple of pieces including his own impressive solo on “Spain.” But what makes Simon the star of this particular show is how he manages to imbue material from a pianist with as strong a musical personality as Corea with his own voice, often predicated on more cerebral ideas and clearly focused, motif-driven solos.
The choice of Corea music largely dates back to his early days, specifically three albums—the LatinesqueReturn to Forever (ECM, 1972) and Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973), and the more high octane, guitar-driven fusion of Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973)—from which five of the tunes are culled. Even “Matrix,” here arranged by trumpeter Avishai Cohen - Trumpet, may have first appeared on the pianist’s early classic, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note, 1968), but another version of it also shows up as a bonus track on the two-disc 1998 reissue of Light as a Feather, played by that album’s lineup.
Only bassist Matt Penman steps away from these undisputed classics to rearrange the opening two tracks on The Elektric Band (GRP, 1986), Corea’s return to pedal-to-the-metal fusion after a number of years away. “Rumble” and “City Gate” are likewise joined (albeit in reverse order from Corea’s record), but here re-envisioned for a completely acoustic group where Penman manages to squeeze, in just five-and-a-half minutes, solos from just about everyone in the band, including fiery turns from Calvaire, Cohen, Eubanks, Zenón and Sánchez that ultimately lead to a complete stop, with Harris and Simon engaging in some mitochondrial duo interaction before the band returns for the medley’s coda. And just as he did with “Race Babbling” on the Stevie Wonder set, Eubanks deconstructs and then reconstructs Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy's “Space Circus,” flipping its signature riffs and melodies around to create something altogether different yet familiar and, once again, turning things a touch electric as he kicks in a harmonizer to double the last part of his solo before heading further into the stratosphere with some filtered electronics.
The original material fares equally well. Harris’ “Let’s Take a Trip to the Sky” is an initially soft ballad which gradually builds during the vibraphonist’s potent and lengthy solo—largely occupying the entire tune—to a more climactic peak, while Cohen’s “Home Is” is an episodic (and lengthy) piece that moves through numerous interconnected sections, not unlike some of Corea’s best work. Penman’s “Vegan Los Vegas” not only plays liberally with meter, it plays equally freely with time, slowing down and speeding up with remarkable precision, as Simon delivers a solo all the more impressive for keeping up with Penman’s relentlessly shifting tempos. Simon’s “Incessant Desires” makes great use of the expansive textures available to him with this octet, while Zenón’s “Grand Opening”—the set’s longest tune at more than a quarter of an hour—takes its time to unfold, its knotty, almost Zappa-esque theme doubled by piano and vibraphone, before leading to a solo section where the altoists pits himself against Sánchez and both come up winners, as do Eubanks and Cohen, who solo in tandem next.
It’s a remarkable thing that, through ten years and 20 musicians, the SFJAZZ Collective has remained both viable and vital. As it continues is mission of bringing the music of jazz legends to a contemporary audience along with its own compositional contributions, it has become a touchstone for the modern mainstream which, while clearly rooted in the jazz tradition, also brings other influences to the table. Whether honoring the music of Ornette Coleman or Stevie Wonder, Thelonious Monk or Wayne Shorter. John Coltrane or Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner or Herbie Hancock or, this year, Chick Corea with Live SFJAZZ Center 2013: The Music of Chick Corea & New Compositions, the SFJAZZ Collective proves that it can be consistently counted on to bring the goods with complete commitment, effortless virtuosity and “ego checked at the door” collaboration.
Track Listing: CD1: Spain; Rumble/City Gate; Let’s Take a Trip to the Sky; Gibraltar; Space Circus; Home Is; La Fiesta. CD2: Matrix; 500 Miles High; Vegan Las Vegas; Incessant Desires; Grand Opening; Crystal Silence; Shifting Centers.
Personnel: Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone; David Sánchez: tenor saxophone; Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Stefon Harris: vibraphone; Edward Simon: piano; Matt Penman: bass; Obed Calvaire: drums.
Record Label: SFJAZZ