JOSHUA REDMAN DOUBLE TRIO
January 23, 2009
by Randy Treece
Joshua Redman is no stranger to the Capital District. He has appeared nearly a half-dozen times within this decade and each time he has delivered a mixture of musicality. On January 23rd, he did no less. Presumably, when one hears that a musician is appearing with a double trio, conceptually you would think of two trios playing in separate sets, but that was not the case at the Egg. The symmetry of Redman's double trio was a half circle with the incomparable drummer Brian Blade flanking Redman's right, the ever impressive drummer Greg Hutchinson set up to Redman's left, both bassists, Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers were lodged at the apex, and anchoring the radius was Redman. The sold out audience was treated to various configurations of this musical melange with all five musicians playing together at the beginning and the end of the show. And what a show it was; I am positing right now that it was one of the greatest jazz shows witnessed in this region in years. Absolutely fabulous.
What an irresistible ensemble. Redman was surrounded by several of the most sought after musicians on the planet, who are also recognized as great band leaders in their own right. Brian Blade is a drum hero whose musicality on the drums and visual escapades are legendary. Greg Hutchinson, a more muscular drummer who earned his jazz stripes with the likes of Betty Carter, is touted by musicians everywhere. Bass phenoms, Larry Grenadier, who has held the bottom line for the likes of Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau, is known far and wide for his cerebral musical statements, and Reuben Rogers has been shaking up the jazz world with his stellar efforts on behalf of Charles Lloyd, Wynton Marsalis, and Roy Hargrove. And Redman came to play with a new bag chock-full of creative and boundless sounds and musical renderings. Most of the songs were from Redman's new release "Compass," and most of these compositions were written by him. Lastly, a viewer could not help but be struck by the fluidity and flexibility of the entire show, notwithstanding that this was the third show of their brief tour. The trio configurations rapidly changed and the audience did not have to endure long pauses while an absent member joined the stage, because the musicians moved swiftly and precisely to their respective instrument, while one of the remaining members musically introduced the theme of the next song. Redman facilitated the flow of the evening by announcing, in most part, the order of the songs in a single block.
The night began with the entire ensemble playing "Identity Theft." This song began with a bass/sax duet, as they leaped from note to note as if skipping about the musical scale, and then everyone entered into the fray working interchangeably throughout. As the song progressed, it evolved into a sonic raucous with the musicians stretching the boundaries of perceived notions of jazz, tearing down standard musical barriers, and erecting new musical paradigms that were more expressive and free. What a way to open a show - with a bang.
The entire band moved into a ballad, "Just Like You," with unstated poise and restraint. Here we witnessed and heard bassists Grenadier and Rogers operate in tandem in delivering more than the rhythm. While Grenadier plucked his notes, Rogers resorted to the bow on this tranquil song, and Redman genially soared above with the melody, reminiscent of a classical theme. As all of the musicians played, there was no sense of competition or rivalry, but an overwhelming notion that an unparalleled synergy and dimension was at play.
As the concert proceeded, we were regaled with four wide-ranging songs without a break. Redman's spry bop tribute to drummer Greg Hutchinson, "Hutchiker's Guide," kicked off this segment. This selection, featuring Grenadier and Hutchinson, held a nice bop pace and zipped along while Redman delivered some rather tasty bebop improvisations over the intoxicating rhythm. Next came a raging, powerhouse of a song, "Insomnonmanic" featuring Hutchinson and Rogers. This song erupted from the gate at an extraordinary clip, but the tempo vacillated throughout and exhibited some rather unusual meters, akin to a roller coaster ride. It even had a heavy funk cycle, to which Redman sprinkled honks, salted it with squawks, and delivered a smattering of well-placed blasts, flutters and squeals, as his sinewy persona emphatically and demonstratively flittered about the stage. The tempo and the mood shifted with "Ghost," a mournful, elegiac tune. Rogers introduced the song with a strong and magnetic bass line that remained counter-balanced throughout the song.
Redman played the gorgeous melody on the soprano sax with interesting phasing and Blade garnished the song with a mallet driven, exceptionally nuanced rhythms. A beautiful selection indeed. As the concert progressed, Blade lead the trio of Grenadier and Redman on "Faraway," a very euphonious and harmonic song with uncluttered and bright melodic lines. Nothing was rushed but a steady groove permeated the song; a certain crowd pleaser.
The entire ensemble returned to close the set. First up was
"March," a Grenadier composition, which had a romantic/understated march feel to it. Again Redman was on soprano sax. The drummers, employing predominately their brushes, exchanged mirthful ideas and counter rhythms, while the bassists rotated on a pronounced bass line as if engaging in a point/counterpoint conversation. And then the group unleashed on Gil Evan's "Time of the Barracudas." These guys were playing their butts off and the audience was consumed, nearly in a trance, as they witnessed this astounding musical spree. The exuberant exchanges between Grenadier and Rogers and then Hutchinson and Blade were prodigious and extraordinary. The musicians were spirited, playful, and spectacularly joyful. Watching Hutchinson and Blade match musical idea after idea, without a hint of competitiveness, was riveting. By far this was the crowd's favorite selection.
After treating us to a bang of a song, they courageously closed with a beautiful and haunting ballad, another subdued sonata, "Moonlight," written by Beethoven. Redman's sound was lush and lyrical and the others sustained the impressive and indescribable subtlety of the song.
There are not enough superlatives for this show. I opine that this was one of Redman's finest moments. Conceptually, the double trio format, though unconventional, is brilliant, visionary, and daring. Then to perform confidently this complicated vortex of music with both punch and panache is remarkable. The synergy among them was palpable and it was a commanding performance. If this is not the best concert of the year, Redman and cohorts have truly set the bar high.
Randy Treece is an avid and ubiquitous fan of jazz music, especially on the local scene. For many years he has contributed jazz artist reviews for "A Place For Jazz" and has written album reviews on request by jazz artists. Randy resides in Albany.