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A dream gig for jazz cats

SF Jazz Collective, March 17, 2009

The Province

by Stuart Derdeyn

In it’s five-year existence, the SF Jazz Collective has moved to the forefront of the genre’s supergroups. In an era of smaller ensembles and solo projects, this octet has endured and its rep keeps rising.

How could it not when you’ve got such luminaries as saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Dave Douglas, alto sax/flutist Miguel Zenon, trombonist Robin Eubanks, pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland in the unit?

So what brought the group together and what’s behind the name?

“Firstly, not a member lives in San Francisco,” says Eubanks. “But Randall Klein of SFJAZZ is there and he came up with the project, so that works.”

SFJAZZ is the umbrella organization that presents the acclaimed annual San Francisco jazz festival, as well as events through the year in the Bay Area. Klein’s idea was to bring together a supergroup and have it take up a residency of sorts to perform an entire program of works by a master jazzer in new arrangements by each group member, as well as original compositions that are inspired by the focus composer. The unit has tackled Ornette Coleman (2004), John Coltrane (2005), Thelonious Monk (2006), Herbie Hancock (2007), Wayne Shorter (2008) and – for its local debut – McCoy Tyner in 2009. Past luminaries who have been in the group include vibist Bobby Hutcherson, Stefan Harris and a few others. Rosnes and Zenon have been there from the start.

“When they contacted me about it, I was interested – who wouldn’t be? – but I had no idea that it was going to wind up being so fun.”

The CD sets of the various year’s projects speak to this feeling of freewheeling good times coming off the stage.

Where so many megastar connections never manage to fly off into exciting realms of music, SF Jazz Collective sounds like an organic group of players digging deep into the material. Pushing each other to be at their very best, it’s a dream gig for jazz cats.

“Just checking out all of our musical personalities to produce something unique or different is rewarding. And the whole idea of each of us arranging one tune by a specific composer, as well as writing our own makes for some truly unique and special approaches to what is often familiar material.

“Honestly, with players of this calibre, you can write anything you want and know that they’ll pull it off. It’s so wide open.”

A regular in Dave Holland’s bands and brother to the Tonight Show musical director Kevin Eubanks, Robin also has a younger brother, Duane, who is a NYC trumpeter. His uncle is pianist Ray Bryant. Check out the site www.robineubanks.com and you can see how busy he is. Same for the rest of the SF Jazz Collective. Yet they keep finding the time to get together to keep this group going and even touring it.

”Everybody’s schedule is pretty crazy and it’s very hard for us to take it on the road. It’s crazy how much planning and scheduling goes into bringing us all together. It speaks to the feelings we all have about both the group and the founding organization.”

Tyner was Eubanks’ choice for a project. He’s pumped.

Mon Mar 16, 2009