Concert Review: SF Jazz Collective at Nighttown

So big, they barely fit in the same picture
  • So big, they barely fit in the same picture

It was a tight fit, as the eight-piece SF Jazz Collective squeezed into the confines of Nighttown for two packed sets at Nighttown Saturday evening.

The ensemble formed in 2004 by the West Coast jazz organization SF Jazz has changed lineups over the past few years, but the current configuration might just be the most interesting yet.

Each year the band pays homage to a different jazz legend with fresh new arrangements from that artist’s book, along with adding to the repertoire via new pieces from each band member. This time out the focus was on Horace Silver — Blue Note icon and hard bop raconteur.

The late show got underway with Silver’s “Cape Verdean Blues,” a Latinesque number reworked so that the already syncopated melody became even more jagged. Vibist Stefon Harris wasted no time getting down to business with his incendiary solo, followed closely by up and coming trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire who was equally inspired.

Once the head returned, the offbeat rhythms made way for some tasty interactions with drummer Eric Harland. Another Horace piece, “Lonely Woman” followed in a Miguel Zenon arrangement that faintly hinted at the original line. Trombone man Luis Bonila stepped up the tempo with a lightning fast display of some serious chops. Stefon Harris's “The Devil and the Details” sported some cool chord changes and a rollicking groove, plus surefire statements from pianist Ed Simon and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, who moved to the beat in a steady motion almost suggesting an animated Jack-in-the Box.

Two lengthy pieces served as the second half of the show, namely Ed Simon's “Collective Presence” and drummer Eric Harland's “Harlandia.” While the former served as a tone poem, the latter pulled out all the stops with a frenetic line of a regal nature, almost befitting the title. Harris, in one of his best solos of the night, managed to squeeze in a quote of “Mona Lisa” as he leaped up and down his instrument with lightning speed.

Harland's own muse is one of complementing the whole in a highly musical fashion and he certainly put it all together for this one.

Not surprisingly, the crowd clamored for an encore which came via a Mark Tuner arrangement of Horace Silver's “Peace.” One could barely detect the original melody, but had to marvel at the precision of the four-man horn section. All in all, it would prove to be a brief, but potent set of forward-looking jazz. —C. Andrew Hovan

Did you go to the show? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments.

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