REVIEW: SF Jazz Collective play Michael Jackson at Cadogan Hall (2016 EFG LJF)

SF Jazz Collective. L-R: Robin Eubanks, Sean Jones
David Sanchez, Miguel Zenon. Photo credit: Paul Wood

SF Jazz Collective play Michael Jackson
(Cadogan Hall, 14th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by John L. Walters)

The SF Jazz Collective, an eight-piece supergroup of leading jazz musicians, has evolved steadily over the past decade or so. Only altoist Miguel Zenón remains from the line-up on their first album (reviewed), part of which celebrated the music of Ornette Coleman. Every year they concentrate on the repertoire of a different musician – Coltrane, Monk, Stevie Wonder – in addition to featuring new music from band members.

They take turns introducing the band. Genial trumpeter Sean Jones likened the experience of coming into the SF Jazz Collective a few years ago to joining ‘the X-Men of jazz’. The analogy gives an idea of their strengths and weaknesses: as individuals their jazz superpowers are unparalleled; as a unit they can lack focus – it’s a band of bandleaders.

Last Monday’s concert at Cadogan Hall was the last in their current tour – the musicians’ relief was palpable – and included five arrangements of music made famous by ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson, such as David Sánchez’s percussive version of Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough and a glassy arrangement of Human Nature, the Steve Porcaro / John Bettis track from Thriller that Miles Davis once made his own. Arranged by Warren Wolf, it featured a melodic, articulate vibraphone solo from Wolf himself.

The hall’s acoustics and the mix were not kind to SF Jazz Collective’s sound, particularly on tunes like the early Jackson 5 song The Love You Save, with its hyperactive drums, and the tricksy reinvention of the late Rod Temperton’s Rock With You. The sound on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now (LINK) was better, clearer, and included a fascinating interview with trombonist Robin Eubanks, who told presenter Soweto Kinch about the band’s almost unique luxury – 60 hours of properly funded rehearsal time at the start of each season.

The slower, more reflective numbers fared better in Cadogan Hall. Blame It On The Boogie, gently reinvented for alto, bass and drums (with an ensemble ending), was a chance to actually hear Matt Penman’s fine double bass work. Best of all was Sean Jones’s The Hutcherson Hug, dedicated to the SF Jazz Collective’s founding vibes player Bobby Hutcherson , who (like Temperton) died earlier this year . This was restrained yet emotional, and featured another outstanding solo from Wolf, making the tune an unpretentious and moving highlight.

SF Jazz Collective. As above but also including Warren Wolf, Matt Penman
 and Obed Calvaire. Photo credit Paul Wood

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