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Joshua Redman: Takes On The Challenge of the Trio

By Published: May 28, 2007
All About Jazz: The new CD is not only a return to acoustic, but a piano-less trio. How did it come about for you? How did it get in your mind that you wanted to do it?

Joshua Redman: It's always been an exciting context for me to work in because of all the freedom there is. Without piano or guitar, or a dedicated harmonic instrument, there's a tremendous amount of freedom that's available to all of us, the saxophonist in particular. There's a lot of harmonic freedom and along with that comes a great deal of melodic freedom. It's a very open context, but it's also kind of raw, naked and intimate context as well. But it's really challenging, because when you don't have a dedicated harmonic instrument, all the harmonic responsibility essentially falls upon the saxophonist and the bassist. It can be intimidating. It took me a while before I thought I was ready to do a whole project devoted to that sound and that approach.

The time just felt right. The two main bands I had been working with before this, the Elastic Band and the SF Jazz Collective, were very thick bands. In the case of the Jazz Collective, it's an eight-piece ensemble with a four-horn front line, vibes and piano. You've got a lot of harmony. In the Elastic Band, even though it was only three or four musicians, once again there was a lot of sound. Lots of keyboards, guitars, effects.

Originally, I thought I just wanted to do a trio record. I had some material and I'd get deeper into that and craft some songs for that format. Then these other concepts started to take shape. This idea of doing these arrangements of these tunes Sonny Rollins had done on Way Out West. Then it took on all these other concepts that started to emerge.

AAJ: I was listening to Sonny's Way Out West to see the contrast. It was interesting.

JR: Yeah. [laughs]. When I was working on this music, I kind of heard that (Way Out West) again for the first time in maybe ten years. I was really inspired to immediately try my own takes on some of that music. But I don't really like to listen to myself next to Sonny Rollins. [chuckles] It's a pretty humbling experience. I try not to play the music back to back. I don't play my record at all so that makes it easy.

AAJ: It sounds good, and you didn't give the exact same feel to it.

JR: That was really important. That would have been musical suicide if I tried to do the same arrangement and approach of Sonny Rollins. Obviously his influence is huge on me. He's probably my biggest influence as a saxophonist and as an improviser. But the way I tried to approach the music was with different grooves, different tempos, different arrangements. In the case of "Wagon Wheels, a completely different coloration. Sonny Rollins did it slow, loping, kind of cowboy-ish song. My approach has more of a Middle Eastern flavor to it. It has a different time signature, a different key.

AAJ:You have a lot of Eastern feel and influence in some of the tunes you use on the recording.

JR: It's there. It's something that is part of my musical upbringing and musical roots. But not in a studied way at all. My mom [Renee Shedroff] exposed me to all kinds of music at a very early age. Not just Western music, like jazz and classical and rock and funk—which I was exposed a lot to. She was a dancer and she loved Indian dance and music and Indonesian dance and music. She took me to a lot of concerts. In the Bay area [Oakland area, where Redman grew up] in the early '70s, there was a lot of opportunity to experience those non-Western art forms.

I feel like those sounds are there. They've always been there, kind of a part of my musical perspective; the way my ears are tuned to harmony and to melody. But I never really studied that music. To the extent that those sounds come out in my music—and in this record they come out in a lot more explicit way than in previous projects—it's not through a deep knowledge or analysis of those forms. It's not in a formal way. I don't know different ragas, I don't play with different beats cycles that come in a structural way from these musics. It's more just a feel and a flavoring that in a certain sense have to do more with these musical sounds that have been in my ears for a long time, since I was very young.

I should stress that there are a lot of jazz musicians out there that have immersed themselves in these musics and really know them. I'm not one of those musicians. I haven't studied the form.

AAJ:Some of the other tunes taken from Wayne Shorter, Coltrane. That's obviously from their influence on you as a saxophonist.

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