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Redman moved by life and death

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  • May. 31, 2007
    Redman moved by life and death

    By Andrew Gilbert
    San Jose Mercury News

    Standing on the cusp of life and death, Joshua Redman decided to face his musical fears, plunging into a situation he had long avoided.

    For the Berkeley-raised, Harvard-educated tenor sax star, 2006 was a tumultuous year. He witnessed the birth of his son, Jadon, and the passing of his father, saxophone great Dewey Redman. His previous project, the groove-oriented Elastic Band, was moving to the back burner, and the time seemed auspicious to tackle a daunting musical situation he associated with jazz legends like Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson. The results of Redman's breakthrough can be heard on his new CD "Back East" (Nonesuch), a consistently enthralling album that uses Rollins' "Way Out West" as a touchstone.

    Like Rollins' classic 1957 Riverside album, "Back East" features Redman without a piano or other chordal instrument, backed only by bass and drums. Exploring a program of tunes thematically united by various notions of "east," the saxophonist triumphs over his trepidation and delivers his most authoritative statement yet. For those waiting to hear Redman live, he performs with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, who are featured on three tracks of "Back East," at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts Theatre on Saturday in an SFJazz Spring Season double bill with the trio Plays Monk (see story below). Redman also plays two shows with Rogers and Harland at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz on Monday. "I think I was basically scared to do it (this kind of album) for a long time, and I still am," says Redman, 37, at a cafe not far from where he grew up in Berkeley. "Trying to create music which is meaningful, focused and varied enough to sustain interest without a dedicated harmonic instrument is incredibly challenging, especially in this day and age, when so much of the sound of modern jazz is defined by harmony. "That's not to say there isn't harmonic content playing saxophone trio," Redman continues. "There is, and there needs to be, but the harmonic statements that really define a lot of modern jazz can't be made in the same way without a pianist or guitarist. A lot of the writing I had done up to this point was predicated on at least one harmonic instrument. In some sense, it's been like starting from scratch again." Besides its reference to "Way Out West," the album's title works on other levels, starting with Redman looking to the East Coast for his collaborators.

    In addition to Rogers and Harland, Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson play on six pieces on the disc, while Redman's longtime comrades Christian McBride and Brian Blade are featured on two. One of Redman's primary saxophone trio inspirations, the great tenor player Joe Lovano, joins him on a galvanizing version of Wayne Shorter's "Indian Song" (and appears as a special guest on Saturday's concert). Though it didn't seem so to Redman at the time, the most significant encounter on the disc was with his father, who brings a majestic sense of drama to the tenor conclave on Coltrane's "India." Afterward, Dewey Redman asked to record a track on alto with just Jackson and Grenadier, a priceless performance that closes the album. "It was just a record date," Joshua Redman says. "He came and played, and that was it. It turns out the last time I saw him before he died was in the studio." From a Berkeley perspective, looking east speaks to a Pacific Rim orientation, and several pieces incorporate Asian cadences. The album also harkens back to Redman's early years on the Boston scene, when he was starting to develop a personal voice. It was while he was attending Harvard that he first started playing in bass-and-drums settings. At that time, he wasn't seeking pianoless gigs so much as picking up work wherever he could find it, which often meant joints without a piano, or with a budget that could accommodate no more than three musicians.

    After winning the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, he moved to New York. Joining his father's pianoless band, he spent almost two years touring and recording with Dewey, forging an adult relationship with the elder Redman for the first time. Dedicating himself to the saxophone trio format involved confronting how he measures up to all sax players who preceded him, from Rollins, Redman and Henderson to Branford Marsalis, another key source of inspiration. Redman has "always wanted to do it," says Harland, who's played extensively with him over the past decade, including three seasons in the SFJazz Collective. "But before, he's kind of done it on the sly. Occasionally, pianist Aaron Goldberg couldn't make some dates, so we'd play trio, and some trio ideas got sparked. He wanted that sound with the piano player before, and now he wants to take some risks and surround himself with guys who will push the music to the edge." Drawing a straight line between an artist's personal life and his or her creative output can be a fool's errand, but when Redman talks about his recent transformative experiences, it's impossible not to attribute some of his music's intensity and narrative drive to his newfound focus. "The past year has been a year of huge change on every level - musical, artistic, physical, emotional," Redman says. "I was there in the room when my dad passed away. That and being in the room when my son was born were, without question, the two most profound and powerful experiences of my life. I've never really felt like I lived in the moment, except through music, until very recently. "Now when I'm present, I'm really present. I don't know if that's a reaction against all these heavy things going on and all this change, or maybe all that stuff has galvanized my soul, and I'm really focusing on the moment and what's immediate."

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on May 31, 2007

By Andrew Gilbert
San Jose Mercury News

Standing on the cusp of life and death, Joshua Redman decided to face his musical fears, plunging into a situation he had long avoided.

For the Berkeley-raised, Harvard-educated tenor sax star, 2006 was a tumultuous year. He witnessed the birth of his son, Jadon, and the passing of his father, saxophone great Dewey Redman. His previous project, the groove-oriented Elastic Band, was moving to the back burner, and the time seemed auspicious to tackle a daunting musical situation he associated with jazz legends like Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson. The results of Redman's breakthrough can be heard on his new CD "Back East" (Nonesuch), a consistently enthralling album that uses Rollins' "Way Out West" as a touchstone.

Like Rollins' classic 1957 Riverside album, "Back East" features Redman without a piano or other chordal instrument, backed only by bass and drums. Exploring a program of tunes thematically united by various notions of "east," the saxophonist triumphs over his trepidation and delivers his most authoritative statement yet. For those waiting to hear Redman live, he performs with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, who are featured on three tracks of "Back East," at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts Theatre on Saturday in an SFJazz Spring Season double bill with the trio Plays Monk (see story below). Redman also plays two shows with Rogers and Harland at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz on Monday. "I think I was basically scared to do it (this kind of album) for a long time, and I still am," says Redman, 37, at a cafe not far from where he grew up in Berkeley. "Trying to create music which is meaningful, focused and varied enough to sustain interest without a dedicated harmonic instrument is incredibly challenging, especially in this day and age, when so much of the sound of modern jazz is defined by harmony. "That's not to say there isn't harmonic content playing saxophone trio," Redman continues. "There is, and there needs to be, but the harmonic statements that really define a lot of modern jazz can't be made in the same way without a pianist or guitarist. A lot of the writing I had done up to this point was predicated on at least one harmonic instrument. In some sense, it's been like starting from scratch again." Besides its reference to "Way Out West," the album's title works on other levels, starting with Redman looking to the East Coast for his collaborators.

In addition to Rogers and Harland, Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson play on six pieces on the disc, while Redman's longtime comrades Christian McBride and Brian Blade are featured on two. One of Redman's primary saxophone trio inspirations, the great tenor player Joe Lovano, joins him on a galvanizing version of Wayne Shorter's "Indian Song" (and appears as a special guest on Saturday's concert). Though it didn't seem so to Redman at the time, the most significant encounter on the disc was with his father, who brings a majestic sense of drama to the tenor conclave on Coltrane's "India." Afterward, Dewey Redman asked to record a track on alto with just Jackson and Grenadier, a priceless performance that closes the album. "It was just a record date," Joshua Redman says. "He came and played, and that was it. It turns out the last time I saw him before he died was in the studio." From a Berkeley perspective, looking east speaks to a Pacific Rim orientation, and several pieces incorporate Asian cadences. The album also harkens back to Redman's early years on the Boston scene, when he was starting to develop a personal voice. It was while he was attending Harvard that he first started playing in bass-and-drums settings. At that time, he wasn't seeking pianoless gigs so much as picking up work wherever he could find it, which often meant joints without a piano, or with a budget that could accommodate no more than three musicians.

After winning the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, he moved to New York. Joining his father's pianoless band, he spent almost two years touring and recording with Dewey, forging an adult relationship with the elder Redman for the first time. Dedicating himself to the saxophone trio format involved confronting how he measures up to all sax players who preceded him, from Rollins, Redman and Henderson to Branford Marsalis, another key source of inspiration. Redman has "always wanted to do it," says Harland, who's played extensively with him over the past decade, including three seasons in the SFJazz Collective. "But before, he's kind of done it on the sly. Occasionally, pianist Aaron Goldberg couldn't make some dates, so we'd play trio, and some trio ideas got sparked. He wanted that sound with the piano player before, and now he wants to take some risks and surround himself with guys who will push the music to the edge." Drawing a straight line between an artist's personal life and his or her creative output can be a fool's errand, but when Redman talks about his recent transformative experiences, it's impossible not to attribute some of his music's intensity and narrative drive to his newfound focus. "The past year has been a year of huge change on every level - musical, artistic, physical, emotional," Redman says. "I was there in the room when my dad passed away. That and being in the room when my son was born were, without question, the two most profound and powerful experiences of my life. I've never really felt like I lived in the moment, except through music, until very recently. "Now when I'm present, I'm really present. I don't know if that's a reaction against all these heavy things going on and all this change, or maybe all that stuff has galvanized my soul, and I'm really focusing on the moment and what's immediate."

Music Enitity Reference: 
Back East
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