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Each year since 2004, the SFJAZZ Collective has brought together eight of the top names in jazz (including, in its latest lineup, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Stefon Harris and Miguel Zenon) to focus on the work of a single modern jazz giant. Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock were featured in past years and in 2008 the spotlight was on the music of Wayne Shorteran inspired, if obvious, choice, given Shorter's profound influence on today's jazz scene and the fact that 2008 was Shorter's 75th birthday year.
What sets the Collective apart from most similar all star aggregations is that it's not just a one-off gathering of soloists trying to outdo one another; it's a well-rehearsed, unified and apparently egoless meeting of equals. Each member of the ensemble arranges one of the chosen artist's tunes and contributes an original composition of their own to the band. It's a simple, yet ambitious formula that brilliantly melds a respect for jazz' past with an embrace of its future. And how refreshing to find major figures like Lovano and Douglas who are willing to spend time as just another player in the band, even if it is a heck of a band.
Over three discs documenting its 2008 tour, the octet (which also features Robin Eubanks, Renee Rosnes, Matt Penman and Eric Harland) offers powerful, imaginative and heartfelt interpretations of gems spanning Shorter's long career and diverse stylistic incarnations like "Black Nile," "El Gaucho," "Infant Eyes" and even, in an arrangement by Rosnes, a fresh take on the much-covered "Footprints." The original tunes are more of a mixed bag, with standouts including Zenon's intricate "Frontline," Lovano's hard-swinging "This, That and the Other" and Harland's politically charged "The Year 2008." The level of musicianship throughout the nearly three-hour recording is nothing short of stunning, with all the Collective members given ample room to shine.
Track Listing: CD1: Armageddon; Aurora Borealis; Infant Eyes; Go; Breakthrough; Yes and No. CD2: Secrets of the Code; El Gaucho; The Year 2008; Diana; Black Nile. CD3: Frontline; The Angels' Share; This, That and the Other; The Road to Dharma; Aung San Suu Kyi; Footprints.
Personnel: Joe Lovano: tenor sax; Dave Douglas: trumpet; Stefon Harris: vibes; Miguel Zenon: alto sax; Robin Eubanks: trombone; Renee Rosnes: piano; Matt Penman: bass; Eric Harland: drums.