October 8, 2002
The last time Joshua Redman was in town he was working his new trio with keyboard man Sam Yahel and drummer Brian Blade in preparation for recording what was to be the recently issued album Elastic. Then a few months later the Yaya 3 set, already in the can at the time of Redman’s February 2002 tour, would hit the stores. Certainly not your typical organ combo record, there was a troubling sense that Yaya 3 didn’t seem to capture the kind of excitement that this trio was capable of generating in a live concert. However, Elastic undoubtedly hits closer to the mark and this return engagement with Redman and the guys further substantiates that this could be the next great jazz group of recent vintage.
California jam band The Om Trio opened the evening, working their free form explorations in an attempt to wring out every possible idea. Unfortunately, it all proved a bit too frustrating, as they never settled into a groove long enough to develop an idea or lay down a substantial foundation. In other words, it was all flotsam and jetsam, its brief duration being somewhat of a blessing.
Redman, Yahel, and Blade took little time in establishing their authority and the differences in professional ability and presentation alone more than made up for the opening misfire. Yahel’s “In the Blink of An Eye” kicked in with the advanced harmonies of bop, but with a decidedly funky groove that proved to be a case of deceptive simplicity. In fact, a musician friend who had joined me for the evening remarked at how people seemed to be bobbing their heads to the beat, but yet there was something far more advanced in Yahel’s solo forays that might just as easily been missed by the casual listener.
As for Redman, his own voice seems to be getting stronger and more idiosyncratic. These days, part of this may be due to his sage use of electronics. Much like a guitarist, Redman had his own box of gear and an array of pedals on the floor that he used to vary the effects on his saxophones. He would open “Boogielastic” with the same cacophonous slap tongue approach that he used to kick off his Freedom In the Groove album, Yahel later contributing some juicy passages on the Fender Rhodes and Blade soloing over a vamp like a man possessed.
Corroborating what he has said before about his wide ranging musical tastes, Redman commented in the introduction to “Long Way Home” that he saw the piece as a combination of “Jobim, Wayne Shorter, and Led Zepplin.” Using a three-note motif, he would later build his solo to frenzied proportions, Yahel and Blade following every move with baited breath. Not before heard in a performance by this group, “Streams of Consciousness” also found Redman making the most of thematic development and improvisation, his horn squawking and sputtering into the lower registers and Blade going crazy for the ending breakdown. Then, even as Redman seemed to be breaching new ground in his boisterous statements, a tune like “Can a Good Thing Last Forever?” reminds you of how intensely melodic the saxophonist can be both in his writing and playing.
Closing out a gratifying set, the trio made the most of Yahel’s “Hometown,” a gospel-tinged number that went back and forth between funk and fast swing sections. Truly greater than the sum of their parts, Joshua Redman’s Elastic Trio may be the saxophonist’s most important endeavor to date and fans of Yahel and Blade will certainly get more than their share of thrills from two intensely skilled craftsmen. Bravo!