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No jazz musician with Joshua Redman's pedigree, chops and talent wants to be tagged as "cautious" or "cerebral," but that was Redman's reputation, perhaps right up until Back East was released in 2007. That CD, a return to straight-ahead acoustic playing after a brief digression, found the saxophonist fronting a few different rhythm sections (and standing next to a couple of guests) and generated natural comparisons to Sonny Rollins' classic Way Out West.
Compass simultaneously extends the trio concept laid out in the previous work (all but one piece is an original composition) and focuses the attack by corralling the number of sidemen and positioning Redman as the unquestionable lead voice. Bassists Reuben Rogers and FLY mix and match with drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson and the format seems to have loosened Redman up, encouraging and allowing him to give himself over to his improvisational instincts rather than his impeccably disciplined technique.
When the bands double up, however, tracks that might have been unwieldy or overcrowded are instead harmonically rich, rhythmically vibrant and bristling with creative complexity. On "Identity Theft" Redman absorbs the rhythm section's body blows without flinching. The ballad "Just Like You" features heartfelt tenor lines spinning out on top of bowed basses and malleted drums. "Moonlight," a take on Beethoven's Sonata, is dignified and beautiful without being stuffy. Clocking in at well over an hour, Compass offers a lot of music to take in, but the tunes are relatively brief (ranging from two to nine minutes) and Redman's newly discovered easy-going effortlessness makes this the crowning achievement of his career.
Track Listing: Uncharted; Faraway; Identity Thief; Just Like You; Hutchhiker's Guide; Ghost; Insomnomaniac;
Moonlight; Un Peu Fou; March; Round Reuben; Little Ditty; Through the Valley.