After ten years and eight albums, Joshua Redman has undertaken his most ambitious project yet with Passage of Time. Already a mature musician with excellent command of the tenor saxophone and a very musical mind, Redman has little left to prove, and it shows in this new eight-part song cycle. Historically, long-form jazz albums have been susceptible to criticism -- lack of cohesion, abrupt transitions, or trying too hard to tell a story. Passage of Time suffers from none of these. Redman finds himself in supportive company with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Rueben Rogers on bass, and the powerhouse Gregory Hutchinson on drums, all of whom appeared on his previous album, Beyond.
Redman’s unaccompanied tenor opening on “Before” returns again and again to a bass note with harmonics above it as a drone and launches ideas on top, subtly bending your ear a bit harmonically without trying to twist it into a pretzel. Flowing directly into the next segment, “Free Speech, Phase 1: Declaration,” Redman is joined by his compatriots in a medium-tempo statement based on a three-note motif. This gives way to solos by Redman and Aaron Goldberg, culminating in a tenor/piano riff section that features Hutchinson’s explosive drumming.
A bit of musical chatter among friends threatens to boil over, calmed by Redman’s gentle introduction of the next theme. “Free Speech, Phase II: Discussion” starts in a laid-back 4/4 and then moves into a theme in 7/4 time punctuated by individual commentaries and group discussions. A spacious piano solo leads into the gentle 5/4 swing of “Our Minuet.” The very natural-feeling theme is followed by a soulful, low-register message from Rueben Rogers, then by statements from Goldberg and Redman. The group moves into some floating collective improv with Hutchinson really mixing it up rhythmically before returning to the theme. Rogers provides a bass interlude full of well-informed bluesy references.
“Bronze” is centered around a groove with a beautiful, Wayne Shorter-like melody on top and churning drums underneath. There’s lots of interplay among all members of the group as each solo works into a crackling frenzy, making this one of the most exciting tracks. Another spacious interlude -- a group effort minus Hutchinson -- leads the journey to a new place. “Time” starts out as a pretty, pop-ish ballad that seems to tip in and out of time. Halfway through, a new theme begins that resembles the opening statement of “Free Speech Phase 2,” but in 11/4 time (counted 4, 2, 3, 2), and Redman and Goldberg rise to the challenge with inspired solos.
“Enemies Within” begins with Redman and Rogers trading speech-like ideas between tenor and bass before the theme erupts into the conversation. Despite its title, it is an upbeat tune with solid walking bass from Rogers and a solo from Goldberg that hints at McCoy Tyner. Hutchinson thunders beneath a stop-time ensemble passage, followed by an active, crisp collective improv section in which Redman explores the altissimo register of his horn a bit. The final track, “After,” is a kind of coming home piece that’s a bit mainstream, but well-executed. The album ends with a lyrical motif from Redman that provides a definite sense of closure.
Passage of Time is about communication between musicians, between compositions, and between composition and improvisation. At a little over 54 minutes of continuous music, the album is a remarkably comfortable listen and holds together very well. The record provides an excellent document of a world-class group after a year of touring and performing together, and demands more than one listening.
Passage Of Time
(Warner Bros., 2001)
Joshua Redman (tenor saxophone)
Aaron Goldberg (piano)
Reuben Rogers (bass)
Gregory Hutchinson (drums)
2) Free Speech, Phase I
3) Free Speech, Phase II
4) Our Minuet
7) Enemies Within