Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau
Zankel Hall at Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY
April 16, 2010
Duets are not an uncommon format in jazz, but what might be less common is the supreme level of synergy and empathy that saxophonist Joshua Redman
and pianist Brad Mehldau
have for one another on their current mini-tour that made a stop in Saratoga Springs, NY, on April 16.
The tour runs to about the middle of May before the long-time friends part for other projects. (In fact, Redman starts performing in a new collaborative band, James Farm, before the duet tour is over). And those that have the opportunity to see these two jazz masters should not pass it up.
At the brand new Zankel Hall at Skidmore College, the two launched into both old and new, standard and contemporary tunes. They are so in-tune with one another that whatever jump they make, they land on their feet. They are both exquisite improvisers and yet they are hand-in-glove as they move along.
"He's one of my favorite musicians of all time," said Redman of Mehldau a few days before the concert. "He's a big influence on me and it's a great opportunity to reconnect with him and get to play music with him on a consistent basis... "There's nothing like playing with Brad Mehldau. I don't know if I've played with another musician who hears music the way he does and feels it the way he does. His ears are so deep. He hears everything that's being played and his instincts are uncanny. He knows, feels, exactly what to play; the right thing to play, at any moment."
Two of the first three tunes were from Mehldau's outstanding new recording, Highway Rider (Nonesuch, 2010), opened by the pianist. "The Falcon Will Fly Again" and "Don't be Sad" were thoughtful, melodic tunes, not typical of the jazz lexicon. But in-the-moment improvisation was foremost. Redman, playing soprano on both, an instrument that can often sound harsh in the wrong hands. Not here. Between the fine acoustics of the new music and the pure bliss expressed in Redman's strong and supple tone, songs were sublime. Redman continues to show what a strong improviser he is, and Mehldau's support gave him the freedom to explore and be grounded.
Mehldau's improvisations don't sound like they come out of the mainstream (of course, he knows and has played all that). In that sense, he can be compared to Keith Jarrett, but Mehldau has his own distinct style and his fertile imagination is singular Mehldau.
Redman switched to tenor on his own "Note to Self" and played solo for a time, soulful and searching, before Mehldau came in. There were so many subtleties all evening where one would take a slight twist and the other would respond in an instant and the resulting conversation would be remarkable. Incredibly deft and always interesting, particularly when songs came to a close.
"I got spoiled playing with him because he is such an empathetic musician," Redman noted in the aforementioned previous conversation. "He has such a great sense of how to play collaboratively with another musician and communicatively with another musician, to play in a complimentary way and really have a conversation."
It proved to be a great summation.
Both players like to move into rock or contemporary music, and "Interstate Love Song," from the Stone Temple Pilots, was one of the highlights, with Redman screeching and preaching on tenor, and Mehldau squeezing out elements of the tune previously unimagined. "I might have messed up the lyrics," Redman quipped to the audience after his breathtaking workout.
Standards included Sonny Rollins' "Oleo," the closest thing to pure bop. Even then, Mehldau didn't take the route of, say, Bud Powell, but chose a path that covered the changes yet painted a contemporary picture with a lot of double-fisted grooves. "My Old Flame" was bliss, Redman weaving the and reworking the melody with a beautiful, full tone, playing with the harmony, and making everything alright. Mehldau plays such standards with aplomb, and was romantic as well as adventurous in a subtle way.
What a great paring of musical mates that have been performing together off and on since the early '90s.
For Mehldau, it's off to Europe to play gigs with a variety of musicians, as well as some solo concerts before returning to tour with his Highway Rider music. For Redman, James Farm will be a major summer project, along with some Double Trio gigs as well.
James Farm is a collaborative effort with Matt Penman, bass; Aaron Parks, piano; Eric Harland, drums. Says Redman," Everybody composes for the band. It's a unique group of musicians. We share a lot of the same musical values, but each of us is a very different, distinct musical personality. I think we're all very interested in songs. Song structure, and not just writing songs as vehicles for improvisation, but thinking about the songs as songs. As ends in and of themselves. But we're also completely committed to collective improvisation in the moment. There's a real chemistry that's developing. It will be interesting to see where it goes."