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SFJAZZ Collective meets the musical & humanitarian moment at PennLiveArts concert

 On the last leg of their 2022 tour SFJazz Collective swung into Philadelphia on a cold, starry April 3 night and electrified the almost full Penn Arts Live concert in the Annenberg Center’s Zellerbach Theater. It’s Jazz appreciation month and after two years of industry shutdown over these musicians met the musical and humanitarian moment with

Musical director Chris Potter, a multi-reed virtuoso led on soprano & tenor sax, bass clarinet and alto flute. But all the musicians curated session ‘New Works Reflecting the Moment’  the group’s musical response to a world experiencing multiple global crises of pandemic, climate change conflicts abroad and political unrest at home.

Pianist Edward Simon introduced each player, commenting” This is our first tour since the pandemic began,” and added that Philly was “A second home for me…I’m originally from Venezuela, but I went to high school & college here and I have a lot of great memories.”

Instead of focusing on the music from such jazz giants from the past, Simon noted ” this time we were giving the freedom to bring either an original composition or arrangement, as long as it reflects what is happening in the world.”

The session opened with vibraphonist Warren Wolf’s ‘Vicissitudes” opening in an entrancing prelude by Wolf and interplay with pianist Simon. Then the simmering dynamic percussion by t Kendrick Scott’s and Chris Potter’s sinuous tenor sax turning it into a smoldering jazz sinfonia. The first sampling of the famed West Coast jazz milieu is a breezy ensemble virtuosity as tight as it is fluid and freewheeling in the performance moment that continued to entrance this audience for the entire concert.

Some random highlights from this memorable concert

Simon on electric organ framing the blazing harmonics of Saxophonist Etienne Charles and trumpeter David Sanchez, in a jazz-funk intro to Sly Stone’s ‘Stand’ as vocalist Martin Luther McCoy saunters onstage and launches into the vocals. McCoy’s builds it to that famous bridge that is just busted open as a jazz funk comet that took the roof off. The audience roared their approval, some audience members already on their feet dancing before it was over.

Later McCoy vocal interpretation of Edward Simon’s ‘8’46’’ his sobering and somber jazz chamber piece in response to the murder of George Floyd by police on the streets of Minneapolis. Simon’s lyrics laced with anguished upper registers burning through McCoy’s vocal.

Later, the band played an intro with echoes of a familiar tune and then dropped in the lead line of Marvin Gaye’s seminal 60s classic ‘What’s Going On.’ with McCoy straightforward passionate vocal in soaring through the jazz sub streams already built into Gaye’s orchestral harmonics and rhythmic drive.

Both these hits from the late 60s, then and now, are more than pop classics, but manifestos against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, sexual liberation, and social justice issues that we still have to solve today.

Throughout the concert, the rhythm section of Simon, Kendrick A.D. Scott, and the phenomenal Matt Brewer on double bass and switching up with bass guitar. And equally impressive, aside from their horn virtuosity Charles and Sanchez would also perform on conga and drums joining Kendricks for some meaty improvs.

Potter’s Composition ‘Mutuality’ inspired by lines from Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail’  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Potter’s spirited humanity built into the melodies and rhythmic drive wrapped around McCoy’s passionate vocalese.

The SFJazz Collective is a non-profit organization that for 15 years has assembled some of the most accomplished and thrilling jazz musicians from around the world to tour. Each year a new group of musicians celebrate the music of the legends of jazz – Miles, Dizzy, Monk, Silver- just to name a few, in new arrangements. SFJazz Collective keeps this vital repertory alive and has explored every jazz genre and era. And this performance will be remembered as one legendary jazz night in Philadelphia.

Next up~Jazz in the Key of Ellison a concert production about the life and writings of Ralph Ellison who also happened to be an accomplished. And his association with jazz titans of the big band and bebob eras. With vocals by Lizz Wright, Quiana Lynell & the legendary Nona Hendryx in front of the phenomenal Andy Farber Jazz Orchestra. Stay tuned.