The SF JAZZ Collective gave the audience at Campbell Hall an evening of impeccable music last Thursday night at an event presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. The collective, now in its tenth season, is an octet based in San Francisco. The all-star group performs a repertoire of a different modern jazz composer each year, such as Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter and Stevie Wonder. 2013’s artist of choice is Chick Corea. In addition, the members of the collective compose original pieces to perform in concert. This season, as the collective celebrates their ten year anniversary, they have dedicated their performance to all of the past composers they have represented throughout their years together.
The octet includes a pianist, bassist, vibraphonist, drummer, alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist, trombonist and trumpeter. Each performer played with remarkable individuality, creating a colorful choir of unique voices as a whole. Their distinguishable personalities did not get in the way of the music at all. Listening to the octet was comparable to the difference between hearing a story read aloud monotonously, and hearing it told by a dynamic storyteller.
The group played tunes by Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk and Chick Corea. They also performed a piece entitled “Unity” by Eric Harland, the collective’s previous drummer.
One of my favorite pieces that they performed was written by the trombonist, Robin Eubanks. The piece is fittingly called “More Than Meets the Ear” and is constructed with very striking rhythmic patterns. These patterns begin sparingly in instrumentation, and as the piece progresses and the other parts come in, different rhythmic and phrase content pops out through the layering.
Throughout all of these pieces, the solos were incredible. Each of the members showed god-like technical prowess matched with cool ease and a laidback demeanor. Music of such a high level requires them to listen intently to one another at all times, and this created a musical headspace in which time and surroundings were forgotten.
Their nonchalant stage presence allowed them to be more accessible — they were only showy through their instruments. But even in sections of the music which did not require as much mechanical skill, the group played with such soulful intent. Each of their phrases carried weight, and none of it was glossed over. It was as if we were watching a lovable family in great conversation.
The group’s devotion to performing contemporary jazz sustains the livelihood of jazz as a continually evolving genre. SF JAZZ Collective is involved in youth educational outreach (they gave a clinic to our own UCSB Jazz Ensemble that afternoon), in order to prolong the progression of jazz into the future. Their innate dedication to this music is apparent in their playing, walking and talking; they are the true jazz musicians of our day.