Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Better late than never part 1- The SFJazz Collective @ Berklee, March 2008

The SF Jazz Collective at the Berklee Performance Center: This group is a superband, a collection of all-star talent thrown together for a tour, seemingly a staple of jazz since the Hot Sevens. I was more curious than excited going into this gig- a group featuring Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Stefon Harris and Miguel Zenon, for starters, knowing full well that this level of talent, and egos, doesn't always translate into great music. But the creators of this project have a really smart model- they get the group together for two full weeks of rehearsal before hitting the road, and split the book between band member originals and music of one great jazz artist, this year Wayne Shorter.

The covers provide an anchor for both audience and artists (though some of the arrangements were pretty daring and not at all conventional). Dave's arrangement of Aung San Suu Kyi, a tune I've always loved, was a highlight. (Partially because, after years of trying, I finally figured out where the extra beat is) The originals highlighted the diversity of approaches of the group- the fairly straightahead blows offered by Renee Rosnes and Lovano, a clever, twisty Wayne-inspired Dave Douglas tune (too clever for its own good), an anthem offering electronic overdubs and an unbelievable Lovano solo from drummer Eric Harland, and thorny math-jazz from Robin Eubanks. At this particular show Zenon, playing to a hometown Berklee crowd, and Lovano were the highlights. Joe was clearly feeding off the energy of his bandmates and the audience, and put forth the best playing I've heard from him in ten years easy.

A Berklee honors band opened, a guitar/piano/bass/drums quartet, playing generic modern jazz in a pretty generic way. (Down to generic song titles- “Desire”, “Solace”, etc.) Good players, but a clear lack of vision in both writing and playing.

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