If the quality of the playing and arranging by the students of the University of North Carolina (Greensboro) on this release is any indication of the jazz program in general, then jazz is going to be all right. Much has been made recently about the "Berklee phenomenon" where that school's graduates emerge as technicians with nothing to say. However, director Steve Haines has honed this ensemble into one lean, mean machine. The sectional work is impressively coherent, the rhythm section crackles, and the soloists are, for the most part, quite self-assured. Add to this the fact that arrangements done by the students themselves are very goodinteresting without being overly complex, showy without being brash, and leaving lots of room for the soloists, including, of course Dewey Redman himself.
This is purportedly the first time that Redman's music has ever been arranged for a large jazz ensemble, and also the first time he has ever performed with a large jazz ensemble. To be totally honest, the band is very good, but Redman is the star.
After two introductory pieces, the rest of the program is Redman's music, recognized by a short speech by Haines. Redman is a very free player in that he is not tied down by style, and his career has run the gamut from post bop to the avant-garde. However, even his wildest flights feel anchored in a key, and his tone is basically quite mellow, hence his harmonics and split notes have a soft edge to them. Most important is Redman's rhythmic feel. He is adamantly not tied to the beat, playing behind, ahead, and totally out of rhythm and yet dropping back into the underlying pulse whenever he wantsthe mark of a true master. When he takes off, it is from a familiar base; he is moving away from somewhere and therefore you know that he will be back. This ability enables Redman to engage the listener with a wide range of emotions.
This live concert is a joy for its audience and a master class for the students, who have now played with a living example of how jazz can make one free. The music ranges from solid swing ("Boo Boo Doop") to romantic ballad ("Joie De Vivre"), blues ("Blues For J.A.M."), funk ("I Pimp"), Latin ("Need To Be"), and a lot in between. Redman's solos have an underlying intelligence and logical flow, many times building to the point of shrieks and moans, but since these oubursts arise from natural developments, they can be heard as emotional extensions and not mere noise.
To these ears, Dewey Redman is a much more interesting player than his son, Joshua, and this release might make a good place for the curious to start with him. Oh, and the kids are just fine, too.
Track Listing: The First Circle, Stronger Than Dirt, Boo Doo Doop, Joie De Vivre, Day Star Night Light, Le Clit, Blues For J.A.M., I Pimp, Need To Be, Lop O Lop
Personnel: Dewey Redman - tenor sax, UNCG Jazz Ensemble: Steve Haines - director, Art White - alto sax, Adrian Crutchfield - alto sax, Al Buccola - Tenor sax, Brandon Tesh - tenor sax, Paul Fisher - baritone sax, Mike Sailors - trumpet, Josh Davies - trumpet, Justin Stamps -trumpet, Lynn Grissett, Jr. - trumpet, Eric Sienkiewicz - trombone, Sal Mascali - trombone, David Morse - trombone, Sean Devlin - bass trombone, Michael Van Patter - piano, Peter Maness - bass, John Cave - guitar, John Ayers - drums, Keil McMurray - drums
Student Arrangers: Art White, Peter Maness, Al Buccola, Michael Sailors, John Henry, Michael Van Patten, John Cave