Joshua Redman Quartet Night Town Cleveland, Ohio Saturday, June 23
Talk about separating the men from the boys. Put a well-known jazz artist with a local rhythm section and you’ll get acceptable results. But, present a true working group of New York heavies and watch the sparks fly. From the moment that sax man Joshua Redman hit that first number, it was like he had entered the ring as a welterweight defending his title. His punches were tidbits of melodies or phrases that he delivered in intricate permutations, only to be countered by pianist Aaron Goldberg, who was listening and watching for Redman’s every move. Evading the tradition of melody statement and then a chain of solos, each piece seemed to evolve in a way that obviously relied on the band’s collective inspiration at that particular moment. Goldberg’s sagacious re-working of “The Shadow of Your Smile” zigzagged through several distinct sections, including a point in the middle where Redman flexed his muscles by sustaining tones through circular breathing and getting some percussive effects by slap tonguing. Just as intriguing was the saxophonist’s closing gambit on “Twilight and Beyond,” where he managed to go for the notes in between the cracks, giving things a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor. Technically endowed to the max, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson were remarkable, in support and in their own solo statements, with Redman frequently offering vocal encouragement to both from the sidelines. If there was to be one minor sticking point, it would have to be Redman's choice of tunes, the majority of which coming mainly from his penultimate album Beyond. As strong a writer as he is, with many albums under his belt, a bit more varied a program would have made a bit more sense. As for that final knockout, a blistering romp through “Donna Lee” provided an encore and confirmation of Redman’s victory nonetheless.