CARS HOMES JOBS

Jazz collective combines skills of players who lead own bands

Thursday, March 7, 2013
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Member of the SFJAZZ Collective are, from left, former drummer Jeff Ballard (replaced by Obed Calvaire this year), Miguel Zenón, Matt Penman, Stefon Harris, Robin Eubanks, David Sánchez, Edward Simon and Avishai Cohen. The group will play at The Egg on Sunday. (photo: John Abbott)
Member of the SFJAZZ Collective are, from left, former drummer Jeff Ballard (replaced by Obed Calvaire this year), Miguel Zenón, Matt Penman, Stefon Harris, Robin Eubanks, David Sánchez, Edward Simon and Avishai Cohen. The group will play at The Egg on Sunday. (photo: John Abbott)

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen doesn’t remember much about the SFJAZZ Collective’s fall 2012 tour.

In October, the octet, commissioned by the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, debuted its ninth season of repertoire focusing on the works of pianist Chick Corea with a short U.S. tour. Each year the set contains two pieces from each band member — one composition from the chosen composer and a new original piece — that is rehearsed in an intense two-week session before the fall and spring tours.

“The first few shows are always, you know — we rehearse, we had two weeks of intense rehearsal, and this is super hard music,” Cohen said recently from Israel during a brief visit before the start of the SFJAZZ Collective’s spring tour, which will return to The Egg on Sunday.

“The first show is — I concentrate on the music. I think the reaction was really good, but maybe it wasn’t good. I don’t remember much — I just remember concentrating on the music, trying to make it happen.”

SFJAZZ Collective

Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

How Much: $29.50, $27.50 (members)

More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org

Stepping up their game

For Cohen and the rest of the band — alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, pianist Edward Simon, bassist Matt Penman and drummer and new addition Obed Calvaire — the situation in SFJAZZ Collective is unique.

All eight musicians are band leaders in their own right, and all contribute equally to this band’s creative process. With the sponsorship of the SFJAZZ Center, the band members are all paid and afforded time to rehearse — a rarity sometimes in jazz. But that doesn’t mean the intense two-week process makes it any easier.

“To say we have two weeks [of] rehearsal before the tour, it’s very unique in the jazz world and really unheard of, kind of, so you would expect it to be way more than enough,” Cohen said.

“However, everyone writes knowing that we’re rehearsing, so everyone steps up their game. If you’re writing for something, often you know you don’t have time to rehearse it, so you can tone it down. With this band, with the rehearsal, they want to write their asses off.”

The band will run the 16 new compositions and arrangements as many times as it can in the two weeks before each tour. Often, that amounts to playing the songs two times before heading out on the road.

“After five days, we’ve probably just managed to read everything once — and that’s in a good case,” Cohen said. “Then you just go through everything, and hopefully the second round is a little faster, and hopefully you finish the third round.”

Shared responsibility

The group was formed in 2004 by SFJAZZ founder and executive director Randall Kline and saxophonist and original Collective music director Joshua Redman to both pay tribute to modern jazz masters and further the jazz tradition with new material.

In the first year, the band focused on Ornette Coleman. The following years featured John Coltrane (2005), Herbie Hancock (2006), Thelonious Monk (2007), Wayne Shorter (2008), McCoy Tyner (2009), Horace Silver (2010) and Stevie Wonder (2011-2012).

Over the years, the band’s membership has fluctuated, with Redman, Eric Harland, Mark Turner, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Lovano and previous drummer Jeff Ballard among those passing through the ranks.

Zenón is the only founding member to remain in the band at this point, with Penman the second-longest-tenured, having joined in 2005.

Israeli-born Cohen, a Berklee College of Music graduate known for his work solo and with Third World Love, 3 Cohens Septet (his band with siblings Anat and Yuval Cohen) and most recently Triveni, joined SFJAZZ Collective in 2010 and has performed with the group for its Silver, Wonder and now Corea programs. Although in most of his bands he is a co-leader, the large size of the Collective where everyone can also be considered a co-leader makes for a different experience.

Experience as leader

“I have a lot of co-leading experiences — my band with my brother and sister, and my band Third World Love — so I’m used to that,” Cohen said. “But not everyone you play with is either a sideman or a band leader, so for me to be a co-leader is really cool, and I like it. You share responsibility and you share the credit for this band.”

The band’s arranging process is very democratic, with no restrictions placed on song selection or composing.

“When there’s so many options, I try to really listen to the music and see what resonates with your work, or something, and just go with it,” Cohen said.

“Every year it happens — with Horace Silver, it was a chance to dig in to Horace’s music and see what’s up with that. With Stevie Wonder, I knew a lot of the music already, so really it was just about which song jumps to my head. With Chick, I like this one album he made, ‘Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,’ and I just chose one tune from that, ‘Matrix,’ that I like.”

However, the band does try to hit on the chosen artist’s well-known material, and the arrangements are usually different from the original song.

“It’s really dependent on which tune you do. I would say with Stevie, the challenge was . . . to keep it as funky as possible,” Cohen said. “You can’t make it too similar, too close to the original. My Stevie arrangement [‘Sir Duke’] was really different from the original, but I wanted to make sure it swings.”

 
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