Freddie Redd is one of the last living links to the golden age of modern jazz. He started playing the piano after hearing Charlie Parker
in the 1940s and made his mark on the scene in 1959 with his score for Jack Gelber's avant-garde
play "The Connection."
This told the story of a group of junkies, most of them jazz musicians, waiting for their man. When he arrives, everyone shoots up and one of the company dies from an overdose. Happy days! It was later turned into a movie. Redd starred in both play and film.
Initially, Gelber wanted the musicians to improvise on blues and standards but when the play was being cast met Redd who suggested an original score which would attempt to depict musically what was happening on stage. The idea was deemed to work well, one critic likening the Redd-Gelber collaboration to that of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.
Alas, posterity didn't agree. During the years that followed, kitchen sink drama wentwhere else?down the drain. Redd continued playing in New York and in Europe but was never able to equal the notorietyfame, if you likehe'd experienced with "The Connection."
So in the end he stopped trying to and concentrated instead on writing and playing intelligent, swinging music. At the age of 88, he's still doing just that. Here the "forgotten" pianist/composer leads a sextet of far younger musicians in an excellent, varied program of his own compositions, dusted off and arranged for the modern age by saxophonist Chris Byars.
In the opening number, "A Night In Nalen," based on the chords of "Cherokee," Redd captures the restless energy generated at the old Stockholm bop venue, paying a brief homage to Bud Powell in the second chorus.
But this album is no easy trip down memory lane. The accent is on creating something new, not old, borrowed or blue.
Byars' father, James, a member of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, plays oboe on "Reminiscing," the best track, with a lovely, lilting theme and lazy, "old time" feel that has little to do with bebop.
And it's interesting to compare "O.D," from Redd's score for "The Connection" with the same song on his 1961 Blue Note album of music from the play, which featured Jackie McLean
on altoa new take but based firmly on the original.
In the sleeve note, Byars explains Redd's music as a fusion of the 32-bar AABA popular music framework with jazz and blues. He says, "From a songwriting perspective it's like Bird meets Cole Porter. These tunes are built for speed."
The title track reflects on the ups and downs of Redd's life in music with no bitterness, just resignation.
To Byars the last word: "Freddie is a storyteller, in his solos and as a composer."