A-list San Francisco repertory band the SFJAZZ Collective went all out this year with its new three-disc set, which includes interpretations of tunes by Wayne Shorter and an original composition by each band member. The set kicks off, as would be expected, with an arrangement by MacArthur Genius awardee Miguel Zenón, who emerged as the group's hot young star after saxophonist Joshua Redman departed. Zenón has a gift for turning everything he writes into epic material, and his rendition of Shorter's 1964 tune "Armageddon" is no exception. In this case, the altoist pushes the beat and emphasizes the tautness of those stacked minor chords. He also adds several theatrical horn lines, including a grand wallop at the beginning and one that undergirds Robin Eubanks' trombone solo. "Armageddon" closes on a diminuendo to make room for one of the most sophisticated compositions on the set, a sinewy piece called "Aurora Borealis" by pianist Renee Rosnes.
Live 2008 is full of surprising moments, such as vibraphonist Stefon Harris singing audibly during his solos on "Go" and "Yes and No," and the voiceover recording on Eric Harland's "The Year 2008," which gives the album a more contemporary edge. Harland said he based his tune on a sample from hip-hop producer J Dilla. It begins with a shard of melody that builds over several bars, as band members gradually waft in (beginning with a light fizzle from Rosnes and bassist Matt Penman, who give the theme a bit more scaffolding before the horns start embellishing it). A stand-out on disc two — which also features Penman's inventive reinterpretation of Shorter's 1966 tune "El Gaucho," plus some killing trombone solos — "The Year 2008" highlights the talents of Harland, a now-ubiquitous sideman who should really consider dropping his own album.
For a band that's so format-oriented, and so grounded in its principles, Live 2008 seems fairly adventurous. These musicians show respect for Shorter's material but take more liberties than they did in last year's homage to Thelonious Monk. More importantly, the new compositions are wonderful. (SFJAZZ)
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