SFJAZZ Collective in Mountain View, CA
Joshua Redman, as the tenor saxophonist on a night devoted to John Coltrane, was perhaps in a difficult position. But he held his own nonetheless. No, Redman is no Coltrane, but he didn't have to be. The Collective is emphatically not about recreating the past. Vibrancy, not imitation, was the watchword for the night, and Redman had plenty of that. Switching to soprano sax for Rosnes' tender yet sophisticated composition, "Love is Enough," Redman offered a string of very short phrases spiked with snaky interjections, leading into a series of climbing statements that blended well with Rosnes' own precise lines.
Redman was also strong when trading off with Harland on Coltrane's "26-2," but Nicholas Payton earned top honors on this tune, spinning classic bebop with a New Orleans twist over the molasses-thick bass work of Matt Penman. Isaac Smith, who seemed short of ideas in his earlier solos, made up for it here with a rushing break on trombone.
Bobby Hutcherson made his stand as featured soloist on "Naima." After the rhythm section had established a hushed tropical mood, Hutcherson's solo displayed a depth of feeling that might have embarrassed his young comrades if they had tried to follow him. Beginning with a simple elaboration of the melody, Hutcherson became increasingly baroque until he seemed to reach an entirely new composition, then pulled back gently to his starting point for a shimmering conclusion.
"Naima" was a hard act to follow, and the title of Redman's "Half Full" seemed unfortunately apt in this context. This carefully arranged tune, which began pensively before jumping into a light strut, seemed to lack animation compared with the other originals, despite some solid solos and a profusion of unison horn blasts. It was rescued near the end by another tough solo from Payton.
Hutcherson brought more to the table with his "Song for Peggy," an introspective tune with a lurking sense of propulsion. Zenón, who started on flute, tapped into this undercurrent after switching back to alto sax, turning out a punchy solo before Hutcherson guided the band to a soft landing, ending with just his mallet sticks tapping against each other.
The energy level came back up, and fast, in Nicholas Payton's deliriously disjointed "Scrambled Eggs." With noisy group interludes, Hutcherson hopping between vibraphone and marimba, and a peppy turn from Redman, the band threw the room off-balance before ending the night with a straight-up version of Coltrane's "Dear Lord." The classic nightclub feel of the closing number left band and audience feeling good, a satisfying ending to a two-hour ride.
When the SFJAZZ Collective was first created, there was some grumbling hidden under the acclaim. Some griped that the band wasn't composed entirely of locals, others that the group was too artificial in construction and agenda. One rarely hears such murmurs anymore, and the Mountain View performance showed why. It is not perfect, and it is not truly a local band per se, but the Collective works. It is a project that does SFJAZZ and the city of San Francisco proud, and it deserves a long and fruitful life.
Visit the SFJAZZ Collective on the web.