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  • Carl Zimring
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/05/arts/music/05FRIS.html In the Land of Alternative Approaches, a New Look for Jazz By BEN RATLIFF Published: April 5, 2004 SAN
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2004
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      http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/05/arts/music/05FRIS.html

      In the Land of Alternative Approaches, a New Look for Jazz
      By BEN RATLIFF

      Published: April 5, 2004
      SAN FRANCISCO, April 3 - In 22 years a nonprofit group called SF Jazz has
      gone from a dinky outfit presenting the occasional jazz show to the
      organizer of a regular concert series to a $5 million, year-round operation
      with educational programs and a highly regarded jazz festival.

      Now it has developed its own in-house band, the SF Jazz Collective, with
      members picked by its leader, the saxophonist Joshua Redman, and SF Jazz's
      executive director, Randall Kline.

      True to the mildly trangressive ethos surrounding issues of taste in
      Northern California, from alternative-process winemaking to industrial
      design, the collective does not look or sound like an institutional band.
      It isn't a flank of 15 utility men in dark suits, with a brass section on
      risers at the back and big-band charts loading up the music stands. The
      idea is for the personalities of the musicians not to recede before the
      weight of the music.

      It is smaller than most institutional bands - an octet - and a little
      experimental in its makeup but not unreasonably so. The group begins with
      its own internal elements, rather than the material it plays: the members
      are already known for their individual work, and each represents a
      different style, locale and era. They are not all old friends of Mr.
      Redman's, and they don't share friendships from way back; several of them
      had never met before the group's first rehearsals.

      Mr. Redman contends that the band's original reason for being was to
      commission original works. The idea of covering the jazz repertory was
      secondary, a helpful toehold for audiences and high-profile programming. In
      its capacity as a repertory band it will deal with jazz since the 50's -
      which is very Bay Area, a sexy, slightly hedonistic proposition compared
      with the way Jazz at Lincoln Center insists on teaching audiences about
      jazz from its beginnings.

      Yet Mr. Redman - who also serves as artistic director for SF Jazz's regular
      spring season of concerts - is undogmatic to the core. You won't find it
      stated anywhere in the literature about the group that it is playing only
      jazz made since the 50's; the band aims to embody a kind of positive,
      practical spirit of jazz as it is currently played, not a jazz-history
      mandate with a line drawn at a particular year. Its initial name, the SF
      Modern Jazz Collective, was scrapped recently when the organization's board
      felt that "modern" broke up a recognizable brand name. And Mr. Redman
      sounds thoroughly relieved to be free of the word.

      "It's a loaded term," he said, decanting green tea in a Presidio Heights
      cafe on Friday afternoon before sound check. "I don't really know what it
      means."

      The band's first task, presented at its first public concerts here Thursday
      and Friday at the Palace of Fine Arts, was to rearrange six Ornette Coleman
      pieces and to present new commissioned works by each individual member of
      the band.

      To be sure, Mr. Redman and Mr. Kline are stimulated by the example of the
      Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis's well-tested band operating
      within Jazz at Lincoln Center. But in most respects the New York
      counterpart is a different kind of organization: more earnestly pedantic,
      more concerned for the cause of the public's knowledge of jazz, less
      concerned with pushing the identities of its individual players, who have
      year-round salaried positions.

      The SF Jazz Collective begins with modest goals. At the moment it is
      committed to a week of performances in California each year, preceded by
      three weeks of rehearsal. (The band road-tested the music in five other
      California cities last week, before the Palace of Fine Arts shows.)

      The group will perform in New York this fall - at one of the new Jazz at
      Lincoln Center theaters - but won't convene again to work on new material
      until February 2005, when John Coltrane will be the focus of the repertory
      project. If SF Jazz can raise the money to build its own year-round concert
      hall - it is Mr. Kline's current preoccupation - perhaps the band will play
      more concerts. But the SF Jazz Collective still isn't meant to be anyone's
      full-time job.

      A month each year isn't much action for a band; if it's going to be a real
      one, with its own sound, it needs gigs. But these musicians are among the
      most in-demand out there and can't slight their own careers for what's
      still a fledgling, local enterprise. Also, as Mr. Redman points out, there
      is a distinct positive side to the limited commitment: rather than being
      ensconced in one job in San Francisco, the players can all go back into
      their separate worlds on the various front lines of jazz and return with
      more accumulated knowledge next year to throw into the vat.

      Aside from Mr. Redman, the band includes the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson,
      a bona fide master in postwar jazz and a resident of Montara, just south of
      San Francisco. Also present is Nicholas Payton, a virtuosic New Orleans
      trumpeter whose music has lately been a jazz-funk swirl; Renee Rosnes, a
      formidable post-bop pianist from New York; Miguel Zenón, a young alto
      saxophonist originally from Santurce, P.R.; Josh Roseman, a New York
      trombonist who has played a lot of jazz as well as rockish jam-band music;
      the bassist Robert Hurst, who first became known in the 80's with Mr.
      Marsalis's quartet; and Brian Blade, an extraordinarily sensitive drummer.
      Gil Goldstein, a highly admired arranger, worked with the band on shaping
      the Coleman pieces.

      Thursday's concert, opening with the Coleman pieces, began shakily. Mr.
      Coleman's "Lonely Woman," all medium-slow rubato, lacked some basic bounce;
      Mr. Blade's coloristic drumming, full of microscopic fills, couldn't be
      heard in the acoustically torpid hall. Mr. Redman's solo, in discrete
      parts, built slowly, then seemed to vanish without leaving a mark. The show
      turned a corner on "Una Muy Bonita," underlined by a bass-and-vibraphone
      vamp and lit up by a tender, lucid vibraphone solo.

      Except for a few bold strokes, Mr. Goldstein's light-handed arrangements
      allowed the group to sound lithe, like a small band. By the end of the
      Coleman set, the band had grown comfortable and self-corrected its own mix;
      it became radiant in "Happy House," and a dialogue between Mr. Zenón on
      saxophone and Mr. Blade on drums suggested a new and special connection, a
      eureka moment.

      Mr. Zenón came alive again in the concert's second half, especially during
      his original piece "Lingala." It was a complicated, mature work, moving
      between an even, nearly Steve Reichesque pulse (Mr. Hutcherson played
      marimba here) and changing time signatures for the swung sections,
      including Afro-Latin rhythms. Mr. Blade contributed a decent modal tune,
      "Wages," in which Mr. Redman played a satisfying, stretched-out solo,
      exposing much more of his gift as a narrative improviser.

      Ms. Rosnes's piece, "Of This Day's Journey," merged ballad and
      burning-tempo music. Mr. Hutcherson presented a humorous piece, "March
      Madness," in which a comically stiff march rhythm kept popping up amid more
      flowing rhythmic sections. For an encore Mr. Payton provided "From Darkness
      to Light," the most open, free and aggressive of the original pieces. Even
      in a free piece, this band has enough inner connections; it's going to
      improve.

      It was all better and more flexible than I had expected: what at first
      sounded like a scientific recipe for a pan-stylistic new jazz group turned
      out to be a graceful coup of planning. And though its members aren't all
      from here, the group's obvious pluralism and its blithe insistence on the
      new suggest the feeling of this place in a natural way.
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