The Insiders Take It Out

The SFJAZZ Collective may be great, but is it good enough to tackle Ornette Coleman?

But beyond the nuts and bolts of free-feeling arrangements and superior technique, Coleman's music ultimately requires of its interpreters no less than a mastery of the art of improvisation. Blasting through scales on the solo section of a jazz standard is a universe apart from getting "Lonely Woman" to soar into the stratosphere where it belongs. "The biggest difference," Redman says, "is the absence of a structural element that in other modes of jazz you're used to working with. It does give you a lot more freedom, so there's the potential for spontaneous creation/discovery, however the potential for failure is that much greater, too, because you don't have the landmarks along the way."

Though each of the Collective's members has occasionally worked with abstract forms like Coleman's over the years -- Hutcherson, the lone elder in the group, notably recorded with avant-garde maestro Eric Dolphy in the mid-'60s -- none of them has dedicated his or her life to this pursuit. So no matter how well these players navigate the tricky time signatures, labyrinthine arrangements, and stylistic diversity of their own dynamic pieces (in addition to the Coleman set, the band will perform new compositions by each of its members), there's no guarantee that their versions of the Ornette classics will be more than merely good; but competency from this group is a given.

This project is particularly significant for Redman, whose dad, renowned saxophonist Dewey Redman, collaborated with Coleman in the late '60s and early '70s. "I didn't grow up with my father," he says, "but I grew up listening to him, and certainly I have a deep connection to this music." But a strong bloodline and an attuned ear don't necessarily make an improviser an adept. Indeed, after the initial spout of overzealous accolades for Redman's first few albums, most critics now concur that he's a gifted player -- whose open-minded programming for SFJAZZ is both rare and commendable -- but he's no innovator.

Collective Challenge: The technically 
proficient octet before its high-wire act.
Collective Challenge: The technically proficient octet before its high-wire act.


Thursday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, April 2, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $24-44


www.sfjazz. org

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), S.F.

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While Redman says that he doesn't feel any extra pressure from the gig, he admits that it's going to be a high-wire act for all involved. "There's more risk in trying to improvise over Ornette's music. If you don't have a strong creative idea and if you can't extend that idea over the course of your solo, it's gonna sound like crap."

Most everyone will agree that the players in the SFJAZZ Collective are rock solid, and their ambition is worthy of respect. But do they have what it takes to push Coleman's songs over the top? That, finally, is what remains to be seen.

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