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"The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions”
The Egg
Albany, NY
March 31, 2017

by Joe Major

The most vibrant facet of Sir Isaac Newton’s law of motion states that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, unless acted upon by some unbalanced force. The SFJAZZ Collective blew into The Egg on Friday night, staunch enforcers of that law, ready to dissuade any bodies from even thinking about remaining at rest. They exuded a swaggering, benign confidence born of the surety that this season’s touring program tapped into creative pay dirt.

And it was the mother lode! It’s customary for The Collective octet to settle upon an iconic figure from whose cannon they each adopt a tune to arrange. In addition, each member contributes an original piece, with the intent of personally reflecting the spirit of the source material. This time around they chose an unimpeachably seminal target, and as you might well imagine, the “Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” was rich with interpretive ore.

The SFJAZZ roster, reading like an all-star team lineup, consisted of: Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; David Sanchez, tenor saxophone; Sean Jones, trumpet; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Edward Simon, piano; Matt Penman, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums. From the simple math of their sixteen tune repertoire, tonight’s eight-tune set was designed to present a composing or arranging effort by each player.

The audience, rapt and ahead of the curve, responded to the intros of venerable Davis titles with audible sighs of recognition and welcome. And the originals deployed the instrumental blend, the verve, and the leaping phrasing toward which Davis would have felt kinship. The Collective swung forward on full bodied, industrial strength, roller bearing star turns. Despite the presence of all those sluggers, the numbers were airy, with even the unison four-horn attack segments sounding notably un-muddled. No thematic crunched toes here. The ballads too, seemed torqued with resolute assuredness.

They opened with Simon’s arrangement of Miles’s “All Blues” and its consummate strutting groove. It served as a meet-the-band vehicle for a circle of solos, his piano not least among them, that each in turn seasoned the narrative, and handed it ahead.

Altoist Zenon offered up his “Tribe” as a swelling incantation that began with a group chant, then swooped off on a rumbling, peppery arc that didn’t end until he found his signature ecstatic reverie.

The pulsating and elastic sweep of “Milestones” was arranged by Penman. His jaunty bass lines and prominent unison horn-weaving highlighted the optimistic buoyancy of the vibes and the sailing tenor.

Next was vibraphonist Wolf’s arrangement of the free-running “Joshua,” using an exquisitely mixed and balanced color palette. He let loose Simon’s pliant piano figures to the insistent, visibly encouraging delight of the bandmates themselves.

Then came “Shields Green,” a Eubanks original inspired by “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglas.” It began with everyone, crowd included, snapping fingers, and grew into a treatise of florid, freshly ripped 20-grit sandpaper tones that are the singular province of trombones. The freedom seeking was made all the more animated by spasmodic alto and tenor interplay, and ultimately, a group frenzy. Exhausted diminuendo, followed by bookended finger snapping. End.

Davis’s “Teo” was arranged by tenorist Sanchez, and his solo escape from the deep, rhythmic, unison pocket, was literally gymnastic. His callisthenic gyrations squeezed every last ascending essence out of phrases. See: archetypical sax. See: roof blower.

Up next was Sean Jones’s “Hutcherson Hug,” an earnest tribute to the late Bobby Hutcherson, founding member of The Collective. Featuring Wolf’s celestial, vaporous vibe sustain, in addition to supple bass work, Hutcherson’s famous pre-gig group hug was rendered as a current SFJAZZ-hug celebration of a life.

They wrapped up with “111,” a number Obed Calvaire described as a paean to restless, clockwatching nervous urgency. It depicted a panoramic landscape rife with concussive piano, piqued trumpet, and a stirring, spurring, land mine drum burst. Everyone reconvened to go out on a startling frenetic blaze.

But wait, there was more! Thunderclap applause pretty much commanded an encore, and Sean Jones got the programming two-for with his arrangement of “So What.” The soothing, rounded, bouncing balm of interlocking passages was emblematic of the entire evening’s savvy affect.

The SFJAZZ Collective’s collective support for this project, chockablock with palpable bonhomie, demonstrably stamped the depth of their selectee, their unlimited skill and the integral strength of their vision.

Joe Major is an inveterate jazz pilgrim for whom the holy grail is always the evocative communion of impression meeting expression. Living over the border in Williamstown, MA, for thirty-plus years, he’s been the grateful beneficiary of countless Williams College performances that have arranged themselves on his ever shifting life list.