By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The acclaimed resident ensemble for SFJAZZ offers up its interpretations of songs from two landmark 1969 records — Stand! by Sly & the Family Stone and In a Silent Way by Miles Davis — for four nights starting Thursday.
Founded in 2004, the SFJAZZ Collective has been a group with fluid membership that has included an array of jazz legends and rising young players from the Bay Area and beyond. Past players include such notables as saxophonists Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano and Miguel Zenón (a founding member who only left the group earlier this year), trumpet players Nicholas Payton, Dave Douglas and Avishai Cohen, vibraphonists Bobby Hutcherson and Stefon Harris, pianist Renee Rosnes and drummers Brian Blade and Eric Harland.
The group’s current line-up features longtime tenor sax player David Sánchez, trumpeter Etienne Charles, vibraphone player Warren Wolf, keyboard player Edward Simon, bassist Matt Brewer, powerhouse drummer Obed Calvaire and new members, guitarist Adam Rogers and SF soul singer and regular collaborator with the Roots and Cody Chestnutt, Martin Luther McCoy. While the majority of members have spent most of their careers working in the jazz world, some have branched out into the worlds of pop and modern R&B including McCoy, Calvaire (Seal, Mary J. Blige) and Rogers (Phillip Bailey, Norah Jones).
The Collective typically works up a new repertoire every season, mixing originals written by the members with the music of a specific artist including jazz titans such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, and Miles Davis as well as occasional soul acts (Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson) and songwriters like Brazilian legend Antonio Carlos Jobim.
The SFJAZZ Collective paid tribute to the music of Miles Davis just three years ago, but for this run of performances, the group focuses on arguably the trumpet player’s first electric jazz landmark, In a Silent Way. While his second great quintet featuring pianist Hancock and saxophone player Wayne Shorter helped usher Davis towards the fusion era with the inclusion electrified instrumentation on Miles in the Sky and the group’s 1968 swan song, Filles De Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way delved far deeper into an abstract, electronic sound with the swirling electric pianos and organ of Hancock, Joe Zawinul (who wrote the title track) and Chick Corea and the counterpoint of John McLaughlin’s stinging guitar lines. The album also expanded producer Teo Macero’s role of editing distinct pieces of music together to create a cohesive whole that would be utilized on later Davis albums like Bitches Brew, Tribute to Jack Johnson and On the Corner.
Another cornerstone influence to the path Miles took into the ’70s as his music turned darker and funkier was the sound of Sly & the Family Stone. The group had already notched several hit singles by the time the group released its fourth album Stand! in 1969, but the effort would become their most critically and commercially successful recording yet. Filled with radio smashes like “Sing a Simple Song,” “I Want to Take You Higher” and “Stand!” that combined the band’s celebratory vibe with a political and social message, the record hit stores just weeks before Sly & the Family Stone became one of the breakout stars at Woodstock. Stand! helped lay the blueprint for innumerable funk and soul disciples who would follow the lead of Sly and James Brown into the coming decade as well as becoming a hugely influential sample source for hip-hop producers in the ’80s and ’90s.
The SFJAZZ Collective will debut its performances of the songs from the two seminal records that helped change the course of jazz and popular music a half century ago, celebrating the 50th anniversary of both albums with a run of four shows at the SFJAZZ Center’s Miner Auditorium through Sunday that is already almost sold out.
SFJAZZ Collective plays In a Silent Way and Stand!
Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m. (7 p.m. Sun.) $25-$75