There was a time when jazz aficionados waited in high anticipation for new recordings from specific musicians, like Miles Davis and Weather Report. You always knew there would be something new, fresh and exciting in every one of their releases, and countless people would want to be the first to hear what the direction would be. Sadly, today this is almost no longer true. Now the world is full of jazz released on CD that is predictable and staid. There are, however, two ensembles that continue to delight audiences with something new with every single one of their releases, trumpeter Dave Douglas and the SF Jazz Collective.
For the collective, originally started by Joshua Redman, the newest recording, their ninth, is again fantastic. Taking on the task, with each year's program, of composing or arranging music based on the work of a single composer, for the 2011 season they chose to concentrate on Stevie Wonder. A few of the previous composers focused on include John Coltrane – 2005, Thelonious Monk – 2007, Wayne Shorter – 2008 and Horace Silver – 2010.
The 2011 set is a three CD collection of live recordings that proves to be perhaps their most spirited, diverse, and rambunctious assemblege of music. Taking Wonder as the focal point from which to spin their own original compositions, as well as arrangements, has yielded the most interesting amalgamation of music they've ever put together. From Avishai Cohen's multihued and metrically juxtaposed arrangement of "Sir Duke," including a rockish quasi-electric guitarish solo via Cohen's electrified trumpet, to Mark Turner's Gil Evans sounding take on "Blame It On The Sun," to the tumbling timbral effects of Robin Eubanks' original composition "Metronome," this package captures the ensemble at their most quirky, offbeat and innovative.
As soloists you won't be able to find a finer collection of leaders who have come together in the spirit of communal communication; not interested in playing a game of one-upsmanship, this octet focuses on how they can serve each other which in turn serves the music. While every single track is a highlight, Cohen's trumpet dazzles on "Do I Do," and Eubanks paints a scenic vista of so many lovely phrases it's amazing he gets them all into his solo on "Race Babbling." As with all of this ensemble's recordings, this one is required listening.