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SFJAZZ Collective: Phoenix, AZ, March 21, 2013

Patricia Myers By

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SFJAZZ Collective
Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, AZ
March 21, 2013

The SFJAZZ Collective delivered an intense contemporary-jazz performance that showcased the playing and composing skills of this stellar octet, sponsored since 2004 by the non-profit SFJAZZ.

The Collective's ninth annual tour is celebrating the genius of Chick Corea—the sixth keyboardist to be honored by the Collective—in new arrangements of the pianist's works, as well as original compositions, one each from the Collective's eight members. Previous tours have saluted saxophonists Ornette Coleman (2004), John Coltrane (2005) and Wayne Shorter )2008), and pianists Herbie Hancock (2006), Thelonious Monk (2007), McCoy Tyner (2009), Horace Silver (2010) and Stevie Wonder (2011).

Opening with "Matrix," from Corea's early acoustic period, the ensemble delineated the chart's powerful tension-and-release via alternating horn fragmentations. "500 Miles High," from Return to Forever's Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973), may have lacked the ethereal voice of Flora Purim, but alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon blazed a fresh path, followed by explorations from arranger/vibraphonist Stefon Harris and pianist Edward Simon.

Zenón's "Grand Opening," written for the January premiere of the SF JAZZ Center, employed the four horns in duet formats, trumpeter Avishai Cohen commanding treble turf via fiery contrapuntal exchanges with tenor man David Sanchez, as drummer Obed Calvaire propelled with powerful intricacies. Simon's original, "Incessant Desire," was sparked by one of the best solos of the evening from Sánchez, his explosive riffs contrasting against the electronic overtones created by trombonist Robin Eubanks.

Bassist Matt Penman wrote the pop-style "Vegan Las Vegas," providing a foil for Zenón to rocket through elaborate runs, in contrast with Simon's minimalism and the tune's soulful four-horn harmonies. Sánchez's arrangement of Corea's "Crystal Silence" reflected the ethereal simpatico of the pianist's original 1972 ECM duo album of the same name with vibraphonist Gary Burton, via Harris and Simon's interplay. The multifaceted Eubanks wrote bright horn opportunities that boosted the tempo of "Shifting Centers" into a hard-driving set closer.

The musicians moved into the wings, but vigorous applause quickly brought them back for Harris' "Let's Take a Trip to the Sky," dedicated to his wife and opening with dreamy piano moves accented by climbing harmony horn lines and supported by the vibes' rich depth and dimension.

The group's well-chosen name accurately conveys the concept that all members contribute to the aggregation, which legitimately could have been called the SFJAZZ All-Stars, so formidable is each of these musicians in playing prowess and writing ability. But it is the dynamic synergy of the ensemble that results in its exhilarating sound. With members from Puerto Rico, Israel, Venezuela, New Zealand, New York and Philadelphia, the band is living proof that jazz remains an international language.

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