The San Francisco Jazz Organization, or SFJAZZ, was founded to utilize the creativity of the Bay Area to encourage the development and appreciation of jazz. To do this they created the SFJAZZ Collective in 2004, a group of eight performers/composers who are all bandleaders in their own right. This recording of their 4th annual concert tour shows that they have kept this concept in mind. The two-disc set is a combination of old and new, influences and products. While one disc is composed of works by the great Thelonious Monk arranged by the band members, the second disc is entirely new compositions.
Each member of the band arranged 1-3 of the Monk tunes on the album, a task which most of them describe as challenging at best. As pianist Renee Rosnes comments: "When you’re learning to play, as a matter of course, you imitate the masters. The problem with Monk is that his style is so starkly original, there’s no way to imitate him without sounding completely derivative." While these tunes still bear the Monk mark, they all have a new twist that makes you listen carefully for what’s coming next. In "Epistrophy", arranged by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, the melody line is played as a harmonized horn soli. He then inserts an extended interlude so that the rhythm section can build up a driving bass line until the horns come back in with the melody. Through out the head, there are constant interjections from piano, bass and drums to keep the energy level high. By the time solos come around, the music isn’t as frantic but still has all the drive of the interlude. Compared to the "Epistrophy" recording from, say, Thelonious Monk Quartet at Carnegie Hall, Zenón’s version utilizes the rhythm section for more than just keeping an even, straight ahead feel. The horn harmonies have a very Monkish sound to them, and Zenón’s solo utilizes the same simplistic, melodic ideas found in much of the composer's music. Overall, this arrangement has all the elegance of Monk’s original composition, but with the added energy created by the rhythm section. Very good listening.
Disc two is full of more surprises as the band members exhibit their own compositional skills. Each is a very unique piece. Renee Rosnes’ "Lion’s Gate" utilizes harmonized horn soli to give the music a flowing, lyrical sound. "Haast Paas", written by bassist Matt Penman, begins with a vibraphone feature, but evolves into a Latin beat with an almost bossa nova horn melody led by trumpeter Dave Douglas. "Life at the End of the Tunnel" starts out as a trumpet/trombone duet where the rest of the band gradually adds back in. The piano and vibraphone background at first creates an abstract feel, but this grows into a punctuated rhythm driven by the horn lines.Overall this whole album has an extremely high degree of musicianship and sophistication. Not only is the playing top notch, but one can also learn textbooks from the arranging and composing used here. Definitely looking forward to next year’s tour.