I am a city dweller, plagued by the New Yorker bias. That is, I very rarely go to New Jersey for anything other than to work at WBGO. However, I am not so entrenched that I won't shake my preconceptions for the right set of circumstances. So last night, I ventured to SOPAC for a performance from the SF Jazz Collective, a pride of eight musicians of the highest caliber.
Each year, the collective features original commissions, as well as arrangements of a noted modern jazz composer. This season, the band turns their all-seeing eye on composer and saxophonist (and Newark native) Wayne Shorter.
The end of time was the beginning of the set. Saxophonist Miguel Zenon's arrangement of Shorter's "Armegeddon" set us on the trailhead.
Here's what followed:
This That and the Other - a Joe Lovano original
The Angel's Share - penned by Matt Penman, a New Zealand import
Diana - from Shorter's Native Dancer, arranged by Renee Rosnes
Go - Stefon Harris arranged this Shorter composition with some backbeat boom bap. Great way to end the first half.
The second set pushed ahead into the abstract, modern aesthetic that makes the collective such a great band to hear. Drummer Eric Harland's "The Year 2008" set the tone, a composition built around a recorded vocal chant, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Rosnes' "Aurora Borealis" followed. Trumpeter Dave Douglas contributed "Secrets of the Code," an original work that used snippets of Wayne Shorter's music as source code embedded as a thread throughout the composition. Great stuff. The newest member of the collective, trombonist Robin Eubanks, ended the evening with his arrangement of Shorter's "Black Nile."
Only two complaints. The piano monitor levels in the house made the trombone articulation inaudible. That's just the music nerd in me. The other issue is this: I could not hear all of the band's repertoire in a single night. The SF Jazz Collective had more music in the kitty, but I'll have to see them again to hear the rest. Will do.
Drummer Kendrick Scott, a recipient of the 2008 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award, performs music from his debut release, The Source.
Hear the WBGO studio session on NPR Music.
Oracle. What an intriguing name for a jazz ensemble, one that conjures prophesy, divination, mythological seers and soothsayers. It's also reminiscent of Kendrick's inspiration, another drummer-led group. "Before you even heard the music, the name itself caught you. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. You're going to receive a message. It's almost like going to church."
Kendrick Scott brought his group, Oracle, to the WBGO studio to play music from his self-released debut, The Source. The quintet plays three Scott originals, including "Memory's Wavering Echo," words borrowed directly from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.
Every language has a poet. Consider the language of jazz, which happens to have many. New composers in jazz function like emerging wordsmiths. They inject the narrative of humanity with a fresh shot of adrenaline, and they reinvent the basic vocabulary of a cultural tradition. Kendrick Scott is a new voice in jazz. He is a drummer, a composer, and a 2008 recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award.
Kendrick Scott's music does not lay so easily in the beat, as one might expect from a drummer. "Whenever I'm composing, I'm actually singing melodies. I'll call my voicemail and sing a melody into the voicemail. Then when I get home, I sit down at the Fender Rhodes or at the piano and I'll try to harmonize it. And then I'll come up with some rhythms. Melody is first, harmony is second, and rhythm is actually third."
The results are often sprawling, cinematic compositions like the twofer, "Retrospect/View From Above." It's worth the wait, seven minutes into the medley, to hear guitarist Mike Moreno and pianist Fabian Almazan in cascading harmony. This kind of heightened interaction and listening is the result of directing live action in the moment.
Scott learned some valuable lessons when he recorded his debut release, The Source, on his own label, World Culture Music. He labored over every minute detail, until his mentor, Terence Blanchard, offered some advice about making records. "It's just a snapshot of who you are at this moment. This record doesn't define your whole life. And hopefully after this moment, you'll have more and more records to document that."
Our session with Oracle ends with "The Source," featuring an introduction from bassist Derrick Hodge, Kendrick Scott's bandmate in the Terence Blanchard Sextet.
Mysticism aside, it takes more than a drummer and composer to give Oracle its power. Scott says, "The band itself is the oracle, not just me. They send out the messages, and it's free for whoever is listening to interpret however they feel the music should be. You go to the oracle not to get the answer, but to find out what the question is. So you can get to the answer.
Check it out.
This is another up-and-coming artist that I'm really excited about. Jaleel Shaw is one of the most talented and interesting young players that has come along in the latest wave of young lions. I first met Jaleel around 2002 - he was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition that year as well. I was completely blown away by this cat. This year, he is a recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award, along with another great young talent, Kendrick Scott.
Oh, and Happy Birthday too!
Each year, IAJE and the Herb Alpert Foundation award the esteemed Gil Evans Commission, honoring an emerging jazz composer. In addition to a modest fellowship, the honoree receives an all-expense paid trip to the IAJE conference to showcase the work. Past winners include Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck.
This years winner is Wil Swindler, a Denver-based saxophonist and composer. Swinder brought presented his commissioned work, "Glass," featuring his Elevenet. They are - Wil Swindler (Alto Saxophone), Peter Sommer (Tenor Saxophone), Art Bouton (Alto Flute), April Johannesen (Bass Clarinet), Al Hood, Clay Jenkins (Trumpets), Jason Johnston (French Horn), Dave Stamps (Trombone), Gary Mayne (Tuba), Dana Landry (Piano), Erik Applegate (Bass), Jim White (Drums).
I asked Wil to describe the ideas behind his composition. Here's what he said:
This piece is composed on a four-note melodic cell transposed by major thirds to create a 12-note collection out of which the melodic and much of the harmonic material presents itself. It passes through a variety of time signatures and rhythmic feels, never straying from the four note cell and its derivative motives. Keep an ear out for the use of ensemble interjections during the alto solo - it is an acoustic representation of how a soloist might use a harmonization pedal to supplement some improvised lines.
Check out an audience recording of "Glass":
Wil Swindler Elevenet - Glass