Ending on a high note

SFJazz Collective brought their tour to an end at the Folly Theater last Friday night, and said goodbye to two players from this all-star group.

The SFJazz Collective is a rare anomaly in today’s fast-paced performing artist world— an all-star group that gets a chance to come together for a multi-week residency each fall, workshop new charts commissioned from members, as well as new arrangements of famous charts by a tribute artist. This go-around, the tribute artist was famed trumpeter Miles Davis.

Kansas City was the last stop of the tour for the group, which brought a relaxed atmosphere to the show. These performers are all at the very top of their game, and truly enjoy performing with each other. This was also a bit of a sad performance, as two of the groups members were playing their last show, at least for now. Trumpeter Sean Jones, himself a fantastic bandleader and educator, and bassist/composer Matt Penman are both leaving this incredible line-up.

The night started off with two of Davis’ well-known charts, “All Blues” and the iconic “Milestones.” Refreshingly, this wasn’t a straight-ahead playing of the originals, but a re-imagined, recreated feel to each of these charts. “Milestones” was a more laid-back version than the 1958 original, the slower tempo allowing for more exploration from the soloists and background musicians. “All Blues” had a small, but noticeable shift in the backgrounds— the sustained note entered on an upbeat, unlike the flowing original countermelody, that punched things forward with a little more momentum. This, in their own way, is these skillful performers, composers and arrangers celebrating this music. Miles Davis didn’t stick with one style throughout his career, so why should his charts be the same old thing for decades to come?

As a part of their residency, each member of the SFJazz Collective also are commissioned to compose an original work. “Tidal Flow” by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón featured shimmering trill effects in the saxes and trombone, and, although seeming a little out of place with this set, fit in nicely with their more recent recording celebrating the music of Ornette Coleman, Stevie Wonder and Thelonious Monk (which most of this concert’s original charts are from). Trombonist Robin Eubank’s chart “Perseverance,” written in response to today’s current political and cultural climate, was a slow burn that kept building up excitement towards intermission.

Another Davis arrangement followed the brief intermission, “Teo” arranged by tenor saxophonist David Sánchez. This fun, uptempo arrangement kicked up the original tempo, and Sánchez’s bop solo was a welcome departure from the more laid-back Coltrane solo on the Davis’ recording. The second half overall was more uptempo and exciting, as “Teo” gave way to a Sean Jones original, “Off Kilter,” Also written as a response to today’s current political climate. Jones’ gentle personality and friendliness, along with killer chops, will leave a giant hole in this ensemble, but, as they have in the past, SFJazz Collective will find another wonderfully talented performer to fill it.

The night ended with “Soundless Odyssey” by drummer Obed Calvaire, and a special mashup of the Miles Davis chart “Joshua” and Bobby Watson’s (who was hanging out off-stage) “In Case You Missed It.” After a standing ovation, the group came back out for “Tune for June,” a gentle closer written by bassist Matt Penman for his daughter.

The over-eager crowd inside the Folly Theater left more to be desired; however, they did not take too much away from the overall performance. Applauding a soloist is wonderful, but wait until that solo is finished! All too often, the applause came after just one chorus, the audience feeling that the entrance of background lines signals the end of a solo break. With a great line-up for next year’s Folly Jazz Series, hopefully audiences can overcome this “midwestern nicety to over-clap,” relax, and listen to the music.


The Folly Jazz Series
The SFJazz Collective
Friday, April 28, 2018
The Folly Theater
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO 64105
For more information, visit http://follytheater.org/events/categories/folly-jazz-series/