A fourth SF Jazz Collective concert compilation -- this time from their spring 2007 tour -- is culled from their journey through California, the American Southwest, Midwest, and Asia. Re-inventing the music of Thelonious Monk and playing new pieces inspired by the iconic pianist/composer, the band is startlingly fresh and full of fire in showcasing the angular, witty themes of their hero. The lineup is fairly intact from the previous edition, with the addition of trombonist Andre Hayward and trumpeter Dave Douglas to the fray. Saxophonists/founders Joshua Redman and Miguel Zenón are solid in their resolve to power this band into the new era of mainstream jazz modernism, choosing a favorite figurehead every year to base their operations in. In the case of Monk, the music is in one sense expanded, and in another revitalized. The pianist Renee Rosnes has a lot to do with this, as her style differs greatly from Monk's, yet his shapings and shadings are ever present within her personal grasp. Bobby Hutcherson also contributes greatly to the authenticity of what the SFJC is able to do with Monk's music from a harmonic standpoint. For the opener, arranged by Rosnes, "Brilliant Corners" is a powerful tango merging into busy bebop, while the obscure "Oska T" is an ostinato blues driven by the pianist's coalescence with bassist Matt Penman and the always-extraordinary drummer Eric Harland. Zenón's witty take on "Epistrophy" is kinetic, predictably Latin-infused, and driven by Harland's fiery rhythms, while "San Francisco Holiday/Worry Later" has a Caribbean feel in a softer focus despite vibraphonist Hutcherson's busy etchings and fills before everyone goes wild. Douglas is in charge of three charts; the straight-ahead hard bop version of "Criss Cross," a succinct and beautiful vibes-led ballad "Reflections," and the romping, fun blues "Hornin' In." Everything on the Monk side is done not only with utmost respect, but no small amount of whimsy, and is at times uproariously funny. Of the original compositions, Penman and Zenón are very prominent, as the bassist's piece "Haast Pass" has a travelogue/road song feel, beautiful but not copped or trite, while "Life at the End of the Tunnel" shows off three components -- that of a regal air, somewhat angular in the Monk tradition, and romping. Rosnes contributes "Lion's Gate" which is loosely pleated and more about soloing, Hayward's "Peace Offering" moves as a loping blues, while Douglas' three-part "San Francisco Suite" takes the listener through high drama, intensified by Rosnes' piano for "Alcatraz," "Amoeba" (assumedly for the legendary record store) with its accented peaks and valleys, and "Assisi" with a lugubrious and lubricated pious waltz. Harland's "Unison" closes the concert in a busy 6/8 poke-and-jab mode with more solos. As the group has evolved, the arrangements get tighter, more focused, broad, and visionary to a great degree, The soloing is always first-class, but in general not taken to extremes of length, edited quite well. There's no filler in an SF Jazz Collective performance, with only solid musicianship and a true team effort that makes the dedicated modern jazz listener wish they were at every date of the tour to see how different each concert is. Available in limited-edition form, this excellent document is well-worth seeking out and keeping.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2