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Joshua Redman: Takes On The Challenge of the Trio

R.J. DeLuke By

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Joshua Redman, one of the most consistently creative musicians of his generation, a fiend on whatever saxophone he chooses to pick up, and a thoughtful, imaginative person, is at it again.

He's not re-inventing the wheel, he says with a chuckle when discussing Back East (Nonesuch, 2007). But this exploring musician has gone back to an acoustic format. Specifically, a piano-less trio, the type of thing Sonny Rollins wowed critics with in the 1950s. Others have done it too. It's not even new to Redman, but it's a change after playing for the last couple of years in a larger band —the SFJazz Collective—and his more groove-based Elastic Band that features guitar, keyboards and other electronics.

Back East is at once an examination of the trio format, a dabbling into Eastern music elements that have intrigued Redman over the years, a tribute to some of his great influences of the past—Rollins, Stan Getz, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter— and a re-acquaintance with some present day saxmen that have been an inspiration to him. It also, even if inadvertently, presents some poignant musical moments with his father, Dewey Redman, the saxophonist extraordinaire who died months after the recording. The Back East is the last time the pair played together. It was the last time Joshua saw his dad except for just prior to his death when the extent of the illness beckoned the son from his California home to New York.

Redman isn't new to this trio format. He played it a lot jamming around the Boston scene while going to school at Harvard University. After graduating summa cum laude, then deciding to turn down his acceptance to Yale Law School and move to New York to pursue music, he experienced the trio setting there as well. "But it's never been a format that I've chosen to tour extensively with or to record with. I think part of the reason is I never really felt ready. I'm not entirely sure that I'm ready now, he says with a disarming chuckle.

Redman, always one who likes a musical challenge, was looking for another project. He said his work in the last couple of years in aggregations that were thick with sound, by the sheer number of players and by context, led him to seek out something more stripped-down.

As simple as it may seem, the piano-less trio is not an area where players should tread lightly. Redman approaches it with respect. In his playing and writing there's introspection that leads to invention. There's experimentation that leads to discovery. There are thoughtfully written schemes over which to improvise. And there is a good fit with the three rhythm sections he chose to help carry out his ideas. This is done by the teams of Christian McBride on bass with Brian Blades on drums; Larry Grenadier on bass and Ali Jackson on drums; and the bass of Reuben Rogers with drummer Eric Harland. They are not musical strangers to Redman, and so there is a cohesiveness achieved. The guest artists, saxophonists Joe Lovano, Chris Cheek and Dewey Redman, are all people who Redman respects a great deal.



As Back East implies in the title, it's an album that has Eastern musical influences on many of the tunes, whether it's Coltrane's "India or Redman's own "Zarafah. But that's not the whole disk. He said he heard Rollins' classic Way Out West (Contemporary, 1957) for the first time in years and it inspired him to investigate some of that music ("I'm An Old Cowhand and "Wagon Wheels ). There are also nods to Trane, Shorter and Getz. But through it all, Redman remains himself. His facility on the horn, as always remarkable, enables him to spread his sound across the arrangements with power, when need be, but also with of and interesting phrasing befitting some of the music he heard growing up.

"I guess I craved the intimacy and the openness of trio, says Redman. "I felt like maybe I had gotten to a place, musically, where I felt ready to take on a project like this. That's kind of how it started.

The music makes a strong statement and further entrenches Redman as one of the most captivating artists on the scene, always worthy of one's attention. His reworking of songs done by Rollins is superb, because it is re-working, and Redman carries his own sound and attitude. His playful lines with Lovano show two saxophonists who love to see what is going on in the moment. And his work with his father shows a simpatico between the two, and yet shows two distinct artists in their own right. The support by all three rhythm sections is excellent.

Not many people are making albums like this. But Redman is one who puts his passion for the music first and not business considerations. He realizes that to be a successful artist, music has to be done for the love of it. He has always looked for ways to be creative, to step forward. He's succeeded here.

Just prior to going out on tour in support of the new music with a trio—a journey that will take him to places like the Montreal Jazz Festival, as well as several dates in Europe—Redman spoke with All About Jazz about the music on his eleventh recording as a leader.

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