The SFJAZZ Collective is an octet comprising a jazz festival's worth of names, each an acclaimed bandleader in his or her own right. One fears that such an all-star aggregation will prove less than the sum of its parts, but at the Berklee Performance center on Friday night, the Collective was a marvel.
Each year since its founding in 2004, the Collective has featured works by a post-bop master, supplemented by member's compositions. This year's master is Wayne Shorter, and the concert began with his elegant "Footprints," inventively arranged by pianist Renee Rosnes. Over a romping, almost South African rhythm, saxophonists Joe Lovano and Miguel Zenón harmonized the theme along with trumpeter Dave Douglas and trombonist Robin Eubanks. Zenón soloed on alto saxophone with startling intensity.
Drummer Eric Harland's "The Year 2008," opened with a spare, engaging solo by guitarist Julian Lage, joining the band for this number. The rhythm section entered, along with recorded chanting and a reading from the Declaration of Independence. Lovano's tenor saxophone took over the chant with raw directness. Soon the band set up an almost unbearably funky beat, Harland's hyperactive drums evoking electronica, Matt Penman's bassline sounding like Chic's Bernard Edwards squared.
Lovano opened his arrangement of Shorter's ballad "Infant Eyes" with a tenor saxophone cadenza. Then the rhythm section snapped into focus and he soloed with the warm breathy tone of Ben Webster and the off-kilter phrasing of Ornette Coleman. Only at tune's end did the other horns emerge for an ensemble statement of the haunting theme.
Douglas soloed authoritatively on his "Secrets of the Code," assembled from the nooks and crannies of Shorter's tunes. The trumpeter also arranged the encore, Shorter's dedication to the Burmese prisoner of conscience "Aung San Suu Kyi," with surprisingly affirmative soul music horns.
Vibraphonist Stefon Harris's eventful "The Road to Dharma" began with an elegiac passage evoking the Modern Jazz Quartet. Here, as throughout, Harris displayed his mastery of the vibraphone, songful one moment, wittily percussive the next. Rosnes's sinuous, leapfrogging solo was equally dazzling.
But in a concert full of highlights, the penultimate number, Zenón's "