The SF Jazz Collective is a younger, more stylistically adventurous version of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, a repertory-minded super-group with a defined home base that tours at upscale theaters instead of clubs, aiming at middle-class pocketbooks. Both intend to educate as much as entertain, but SF Jazz, with Joshua Redman at the helm, manages to sound contemporary by emphasizing individual composition as much as repertory, while the LCJO routinely gets bogged down getting misty eyed about the past.
Each year SF Jazz selects a list of works by a pantheon composer to perform, while each member composes an original piece in addition. In their debut year they tangled with Ornette Coleman, which produced their first self-titled album. This past year found them mining John Coltrane, which resulted in the excellent SF Jazz Collective 2. Next it's Herbie Hancock, whose tunes they're currently touring with, and which will undoubtedly make up volume 3.
The album features four Coltrane compositions and four originals, which do not suffer in the comparison. It begins with the propulsive "Moment's Notice," originally recorded for Blue Train in 1957. Nicholas Payton traipses out of the gate with a fierce, brightly ringing solo, not straying far from the melody but deftly punctuating each phrase with precision. Isaac Smith's solo follows with darker tones and more flowing lines, staying in the low register, but fails to wring out enough variations to justify its length. Thankfully that's when the band picks up the theme again for the close.
Payton penned the strongest original, "Scrambled Eggs," an impish and schizophrenic tune that begins with halting trumpet squawks, a breezy piano run, and a thunderous brass harmony. The tempo drunkenly staggers, briefly sobering up for a jaunty rhythm that a cacophony of dissonant brasses swiftly upenduntil they stop on a dime and arpeggio down the scale as pianist Renee Rosnes swoops up it. A series of breaks are finessed by Rosnes until the frenzied plinking meets up with growling horns for a stop-time close. It's an exhausting and exhilarating piece.
Other highlights include Redman's "Half Full," a slow-burn epic that's heavy on drama but wields a theme sturdy enough to bear up under the self-importance. Bobby Hutcherson is featured on Coltrane's intimate ballad "Naima" (1959) and shows a graceful and lithe touch. Nicholas Payton, who ends up dominating the album, offers another sterling solo on "Crescent" (1964), where he murmurs and rumbles with lucid emotional intensity. It's stirring and raucous stuff.
Joshua Redman: soprano and tenor saxophone; Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone; Nicholas
Payton: trumpet; Isaac Smith: trombone; Renee Rosnes: piano; Bobby Hutcherson:
vibraphone, marimba; Matt Penman: bass; Eric Harland: drums.
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