None of these men requires introducing to anyone who has even remotely followed the contemporary jazz scene at any point over the past thirty years. Their respective bodies of work have guided and represented jazz throughout the last decades and continue to set the benchmark for original composing and improvising today. 26 years after their much-lauded debut, Moodswing
(Warner Bros., 1994) as the Joshua Redman
Quartet, they've reconvened for a second set of music which sounds just as fresh today as the first batch did back then.
As the credits on the cover of the record suggest, each player is a bit more involved in the compositional process this time around, making RoundAgain
a truly collaborative effort compared to another Joshua Redman
-led venture. Still, Redman and Brad Mehldau
are the main writers, while Brian Blade
and Christian McBride
each contribute one song. Similar to the democratic authorship, the quartet's interplay throughout the record proves to be close interaction and tight execution where everyone seems to be a leader at one point or another.
Redman's upward-climbing large interval-based motif on sax would amount to very little if it wasn't for Mehldau's downward spiraling piano trickles counterpointing it in Redman's "Undertow." McBride starts thickening the saxophone lines in unison just before Blade's cymbals fade in from nothing, creating an especially sensitive crescendo dal niente
. Brilliance shines through in how easy it sounds when the quartet interacts with each other. Their lines stick together like glue, one's emphasis cueing the other like a trip the fall and, when any of the four solos, they do so briefly, yet with such absolute conviction that there's no doubt about the justness of its length.
If "Undertow" is responsible for the drama on the album, then Mehldau's "Moe Honk" evokes comedic charm. Like many of the pianist's weightier material (think "Spiral" or "Ten Tune" on Seymour Reads the Constitution
), the composition's core is based around a play with short cadences which seem to form circles as they progress. Saxophone and piano segue into a game of question and answer arpeggios before hard-walking swing breaks loose and sees the quartet indulging in its lust for bop.
It is the special balance between exceptional technical chops and distinct characteristic compositions which distinguishes the gathering of these four heavyweights and sets them apart from their peers. Mehldau and Redman are especially notorious for their unique melodic approaches which elegantly blend post-bop and modern jazz language with a mainstream notion. But Brian Blade
's modest contribution "Your Part To Play," which unfolds like consecutive brushstrokes to canvas, proves that his voice is just as relevant, and only heightens anticipation of his next Fellowship outing. The same could be said about the McBride-penned "Floppy Diss," whose cool stumbling feel gives listeners a good reason to revisit his recent small ensemble work for Mack Avenue Records on New Jawn
(2018), which is jam-packed with tight playing and original compositions by McBride and his band.
The only reproach that comes to mind when confronted with this album, is its tendency to sound like what can be expected from its creators. But if you have only the highest expectations, can you still call that a reproach?
Undertow; Moe Honk; Silly Little Love Song; Right Back Round Again; Floppy Diss; Father; Your Part to Play.