The SF Jazz Collective is an octet assembled by that former Young Lion and prize-winning saxophonist Joshua Redman, as part of his role as SF Jazz's Artistic Director. Each year, the Collective rehearses the music of a modern master selected by Redman, as well as original music from each band member. For their inaugural season, Redman chose Ornette Coleman. After three weeks of intensive rehearsal, the Collective went on tour, and the results were issued in this limited edition, three-CD set, available only from SF Jazz's web site. (The commercially available single CD on Nonesuch, recently reviewed by AAJ, is drawn from this set.)
I honestly believe Disc 1, with the Ornette tunes, to be one of the finest jazz albums of the past ten years, while Discs 2 and 3, with the originals, are not far behind. The structural innovations pioneered by Ornette Coleman during his Atlantic period are becoming part of the jazz mainstream, with these performances, sparked by Gil Goldstein's loving and witty arrangements, creating a template for those ideas. They center around unrestricted melody, with harmonic movement being relative to an ever-evolving melodic line, so that changes and bar lines may be subverted, even mutated, but never entirely destroyed. Listen to Zenon's blazing alto sax improvising on the very fast "School Work," or Redman's swashbuckling tenor engaging Blade's drums on "Happy House." Hear Rosnes finding a place for the piano in this music by investigating the changes. This is a bracing, happy, swinging seminar in what today's jazz can be.
If there is a new mainstream in jazz, as I believe there is, one of its core components is the use of compositional structure to challenge the improviser. On Disc 3, on Robert Hurst's "Fred Sanford Went To Spain To Siesta," the soloist is required to do an adroit dance between 4/4 and 3/4 meters. Joshua Redman uncoils long, unpredictable tenor sax lines while the rhythm section boils below. The composition, with its boppish accents held firm by a rousing riff, is a bristling extension of Charles Mingus' ideas.
On the other hand, consider Josh Roseman's "Overground (Invocation)," a deft piece of odd-meter funk that highlights SF Jazz Collective's commitment to music rather than ideology, and includes astonishingly good solos by Roseman and Nicholas Payton. The SF Jazz Collective is committed to jazz as a modern music, anchored in swing, but playing a living, breathing jazz, with challenging compositions giving rise to refreshing, inventive improvisation.
Finally, this album marks the rise of Joshua Redman into the ranks of the great ones. He's got his music together, with a personal, recognizable sound, and a flowing sense of swinging line. In addition, he put this band together. In its personnel, repertoire, outlook, and sound, this is Redman's baby. Long may he swing.
Track Listing: Disc One: School Work, Una Muy Bonita, Lonely Woman, When Will The Blues Leave, Peace, Happy House
Disc Two: Lingala, Rise And Fall, March Madness, From Darkness To Light
Disc Three: Of This Day's Journey, Wages, Overground (Invocation), Fred Sanford Went To Spain To Siesta
Personnel: Joshua Redman, tenor and soprano saxophone, Artistic Director; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Josh Roseman, trombone; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone, flute; Bobby Hutcherson, vibraphone, marimba; Renee Rosnes, piano; Robert Hurst, bass; Brian Blade, drums; Gil Goldstein, arranger