SFJazz Collective is not unfamiliar with personnel turnover. Since the octet's debut in 2004, there has been at least one lineup change every year. This season, though, saw three new arrivalsthe most notable being Joe Lovano, who succeeds Joshua Redman as Artistic Director. When you factor in Dave Douglas' addition in 2007, that means half the band (and most of the front line) was switched out in just over a year. As such, Live 2008 could be forgiven for being a transitional release. Fortunately, this date is anything but transitional, though upheaval is the order of the day.
Much of that comes from this season's spotlight artist, Wayne Shorter. While commotion isn't as prevalent in Shorter's work as with past SFJazz honorees like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, there is an inherent intensity that makes undertaking Shorter's material even more daunting. Then there is the SFJazz sound, which in past years has reflected Redman's polished, precise style. For example, when the Collective tackled the dissonant bedlam of Thelonious Monk, you could still bounce quarters off the horn charts. But while Redman's attack is as flawless as a well-tuned Porsche, Lovano's is akin to the soul and passion of a vintage Ferrari.
The difference in approaches leaps out of the speakers from the first notes of Shorter's &quot;Armageddon.&quot; The immense power that Collective fans have come to know is there in full floweronly this time, there is a buzz and an abandon that straightens the spine as Miguel Zenon solos over the piece's smoky, noir-like foundation. This effect is heightened when Robin Eubanks takes the spotlightthe operative word being &quot;takes.&quot; Andre Hayward was no shrinking violet, but Eubanks gives SFJazz the steely command that helped the Dave Holland Quintet defy musical gravity. When combined with the newly-minted swagger of the Collective as a whole, the result is improvement where none seemed possible.
The love at the heart of every Shorter adaptation is undeniable: Stefon Harris' funky &quot;Go&quot; has the horns swooping like hungry eagles, Renee Rosnes deftly explores the balladic potential of &quot;Diana,&quot; and Matt Penman's take on &quot;El Gaucho&quot; has an enthralling groove and a steely purpose. Unfortunately, this season's original material is not as consistent: Lovano's swinging &quot;This, That and the Other&quot; and Zenon's intricate &quot;Frontline&quot; makes the grade, but Douglas' &quot;Secrets of the Code&quot; can't stop meandering, and Eric Harland's political statement &quot;The Year 2008&quot; is encumbered by an overload of technology. Also, while Rosnes and Harris never work at cross-purposes, the symbiosis Rosnes shared with the departed Bobby Hutcherson is sorely missed.
Still, neither these rough spots nor the introduction of studio tracks (unheard of with SFJazz up until now) stops Live 2008 from being an overall success. The changes in sound and approach may take some Collective fans by surprise at first, but a few sittings with this epic 3-disc set will make converts of anyone expecting the same old thing.
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.
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.