Since its inception in 2004, the SFJAZZ Collective has changed out six of its eight original members. But now in the midst of its fifth season, the band sounds and, more importantly, interacts more cohesively than ever.
"All the people we've had, have been very beneficial to the band," says pianist and original member Renee Rosnes, during a recent rehearsal at the Masonic Auditorium. "They just bring another color to the music." Veteran saxophonist Joe Lovano, who joined last summer and replaced Joshua Redman, now nominally serves as resident sage, the position formerly held by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Also last summer, youthful Stephon Harris took Hutcherson's slot, and this spring trombonist Robin Eubanks was added for the San Francisco residency and both the national and European tours. Despite the shifts, the ensemble's firepower hasn't diminished and the members are especially eager to tackle Wayne Shorter's quixotic music, which they'll be playing along with their own.
Saxophonist Shorter's career has evolved from writing and playing on the front line of hard-bop standard-bearing Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers to a similar position with Miles Davis's great shape-shifting quintet of the early '60s. While playing with Davis, Shorter compiled one of the most distinguished solo careers ever with an incomparable series of albums on Blue Note (1964's JuJu and Night Dreamer and 1965's The All Seeing Eye) that forever cemented his stature as a major composer. Subsequent turns as the cofounder of Weather Report and now the leader of an exquisite quartet have simply embellished Shorter's reputation.
Rosnes considers her time playing with Shorter a revelation. "It was such an impactful experience," Rosnes explains. "The intensity and passion that he played with literally took my breath away."
On the brief 1988 tour that took the all-star band through the United States and Europe, Rosnes played a nightly duet with Shorter on his Brazilian ballad "Diana." "There was complete spontaneity from night to night. He cherishes a lot of freedom within the music, and that really opened up my mind," she says.
Since each Collective member arranges a tune from the season's composer, Rosnes has written the chart for "Diana" as well as Shorter's classic "Footprints." Other arrangements include "Armageddon" by saxophonist Miguel Zenón, "Aung San Suu Kyi" by trumpeter Dave Douglas, "El Gaucho" by bassist Matt Penman, "Yes or No" by drummer Eric Harland, and "Infant Eyes" by saxophonist Lovano. Rosnes says the arrangements give the band a more personal voice, which is appropriate when considering Shorter's considerable body of work. "He plays life," Rosnes says, "through his horn."
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UC Berkeley, near Bancroft at Telegraph, Berk.