Joshua Redman Quartet
And that’s why I’m such a fan of Redman’s music—because it works to deconstruct those boundaries. What we’re left with is not ambiguous, pointlessly eclectic music that sits on the fence, eluding classification for elusion’s sake, but stuff that really seems new and fresh and crosses the so-called boundaries in a thoughtful—and thought-provoking—manner. If it’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun, we can at least try and figure out new ways of configuring the raw material at our disposal. By taking other forms of music seriously (Many of which were influenced by jazz in the first place—See? It is circular!) and finding ways to incorporate them into his own aesthetic, Joshua Redman is doing just that.
The show at Yoshi’s, then, served more as a confirmation for me that Redman is succeeding in his quest to make “music,” not just “jazz.” It helps that he’s got a great new group: pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. I caught this group back in April in Seattle, and was amazed to see how much progress they’d made in just a little over four months. A number of the songs they performed at Yoshi’s—mostly from Beyond, Redman’s latest album—had undergone noticeable changes, and the group members seemed much more comfortable in each other’s presence. This was no more evident than on the opening tune, “Leap of Faith.” After two intense, well-thought-out solos by Redman and Goldberg, the saxophonist, accompanied by Goldberg and Rogers, laid down a wicked 7/4 groove over which Hutchinson soloed, practically tearing up his drum kit in the process. Redman got so excited that, in the middle of it all, he had to take the saxophone out of his mouth to let out a loud exclamation, cheering Hutchinson on. This, in turn, got the crowd into it, and several audience members—this one included—felt the uncanny urge to sound off in praise of the group’s effort. It was amazing. For a moment, I felt like I was at a rock concert or a hip-hop show—the energy in the air was electric.
The group performed the rest of the material with similar aplomb. Highlights included Reuben Rogers’ funky, nimble-fingered intro to “Suspended Emanations”; Goldberg’s weird, Herbie-esque (as in Hancock) runs on the same tune; Redman’s intriguing dialogue with Goldberg (trading eights, then fours) on “Belonging”; and the stunning group empathy exhibited on the tricky, odd-metered Redman composition “Our Minuet,” an as-of-yet-unreleased tune that, Redman said, should be on the next album. The group also pulled off a beautiful reading of Redman’s lovely “Twilight...And Beyond,” a composition that, like many of Redman’s songs, evokes a wide variety of moods and colors.
And that, to me, is what Redman’s music is all about. The technical prowess that he and his fellow group members possess is not valuable in-and-of-itself, but only as a means to more expressive ends. Interestingly, Redman has written that, when it comes to his music, he’d like people to focus primarily on what kinds of moods his songs (or his arrangements of other people’s songs) bring out. This appeal to the emotions may seem somewhat namby-pamby, but it is grounded in the very real notion that you, the listener, can, in Redman’s own words, “...take these moods and use them as windows to your own souls.” As Redman continues to progress and grow as a musician, the moods that his songs evoke are increasingly complex and nuanced. Jazz may not be able to “save the world”—props to Donald Harrison for giving it a good faith effort, though—but it will always have that unique potential to, as pianist Brad Mehldau has written, “...[take] leads from pop music of its day, and [reanimate] the stylistic garment into something transfigured by the forces of its composition and improvisation.” Which is to say that jazz musicians should really focus in on their talent for reconfiguring things and reanimating material in heretofore unheard of ways. Joshua Redman is doing that very thing right now, and you’d be silly to miss him if he’s touring in your neck of the woods.