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The SFJAZZ Collective: Toronto, Canada, October 15, 2011

Alain Londes By

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The SF Jazz Collective
Koerner Hall
Toronto, Canada
October 15, 2011

The eight-piece, all-star SFJAZZ Collective rolled into town with its current project, dedicated to the music of Stevie Wonder, its original arrangements reflecting the Collective's personality. Part of a successful group of this magnitude is the talent, respect, and chemistry that helps everyone contribute to the whole. They work as one with the different textures of the rich instrumentation at their disposal.

Kendrick Scott's delicate drum intro quietly paved the way for trumpeter Avishai Cohen's rearrangement of Wonder's "Sir Duke," featuring brief solos from tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and pianist Edward Simon. For this project, Wonder's melodies provided a contextual grounding for improvisation, making the pieces more open. This was not a literal homage to the well-known singer/composer, though vibraphonist Stefon Harris admitted, during the band intros, that he was both a fan and an expert in Wonder's works.

On alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon's "More To Give," the vibraphonist and bassist Matt Penman demonstrated perfect timing—matching, note-for-note the intro to its soft theme. Trombonist Robin Eubanks—who grew up with his other talented siblings, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and trumpeter Duane Eubanks-was exposed to funk and rock at an early age, before really getting into jazz when he turned 20, a combination which encouraged him to experiment with enhanced sounds, created by feeding his horn through a laptop by his side, on his own "Metronome."

Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" was given an open-ended arrangement, with Simon and Harris weaving around each other during the intro. Followed by another chorus, this time from the brass, its slowly amplifying sound ultimately shifted towards an easy Latin feel.

The show's climactic composition emerged near the end of the second set, Turner's contemplative and melancholic "Orpheus." An "out there" piece that included European chamber music motifs, Cohen's opening trumpet opening solo led to improvised sounds from Penman, created by pivoting his bass on its axis. Turner's tenor solo almost echoed a "call of the wild" in nature, based on its sound and feel. Scott punctuated with delicate effects, scratching his stick lightly over his cymbals, while Eubanks and Cohen joined in passing the baton, playing in perfect harmony. Harris and Simon brought the tune to a close, with a sound resembling clock chimes.

Zenón's arrangement of Wonder's popular "Superstition" closed the set, with Eubanks leading the way over a groove that started funky, but later turned to Latin. Cohen's "Family," the group's encore, was a quiet ballad dedicated to his loved ones.

THE SFJAZZ Collective is a group of true professionals, with no evidence of clashing egos stifling each individual's musical creativity. At its Toronto show, the group demonstrated complete unity, in the context of its work as a collective that has been built over the past eight years.

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