Joshua Redman | 11.04.01 | Blues Alley | Washington, DC
Aaron Goldberg - Piano
Gregory Hutchinson - Drums
Reuben Rogers - Bass
Joshua Redman - Saxophones

Early Set: Leap of Faith, Our Minuet, Chill, Belonging, My One and Only Love, Summertime

There is no question that when one steps foot in Blues Alley, an air of history is abound. It is one of those rooms that just emanate an aura of all the greats who have graced its stage. Players like Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, and Sarah Vaughn have all given this room and its patrons a thrill. This time my trip to the club would be for a set with the Joshua Redman Quartet who are out on tour in support of their new album Passage of Time.

The first time that I was able to see Joshua Redman was in 1996 at the same club, and that was certainly one of the best performances I’ve ever seen anywhere by anyone, so needless to say I was very excited about this night. 1996 was just about the time the world was beginning to realize the genius behind the young tenor sax players’ game. Joshua has always had a certain comforting and familiar, but at the same time intellectual quality about his composition and playing. The setting of this club suits a Joshua Redman performance very well and this past Sunday night was no exception. Tonight the group would consist of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Joshua Redman on saxophones. With two albums under their belt (Beyond and Passage of Time) the group has really become comfortable in the material as was apparent with the consistent re-harmonizations, colorings, and communication that were abound through the performance. Redman’s compositions and the players in the group are steeped in tradition; yet continue to push the ever-growing art that is jazz into the future.

Opening up the set with “Leap of Faith” off the album Beyond, and through the first statement of the head seemed to be settling in for the evening. Gregory Hutchinson’s playing is some type of hybrid between the spiritual playing of Elvin Jones, and the bombast of Tony Williams. The vamp used in this composition allows the drummer to shine and propel the group to great heights. Excitedly patient the progression of the opener moved seamlessly from the open vamp to a full on swing ala John Coltrane’s “Impressions.” One of the greatest things about Mr. Redman’s compositions is the fact that he steps aside from typical forms that are abound in acoustic oriented jazz. Often it is difficult to distinguish where (and if) there is a line between composition and improvisation. The group effortlessly colored ever so gently under the soaring tenor sax solo.

Stepping aside from the form, the group slams back into the transition and lands back on the vamp for the beginning of the piano solo. In contrast to Redman’s furious solo, Aaron Goldberg’s solo begins spacious and very directed. The group accompanies accordingly, and allows the vamp to develop unrestrained. The turnaround on the phrase that the vamp consists of is particularly successful at propelling the motion of the group forward with more energy. The communication between these players obviously shows that they have been playing together for a while, and know how to speak with each other. Reacting to every twist and turn in the solos the playing closely resembles one single unit flying along spearheaded by whoever is in the driver seat at the given time.

Moving forward with “Our Minuet” it is apparent that with Joshua Redman’s compositions, the melody dictates form. Unfolding melodies take turns that the ear would not necessarily expect, but are surprisingly welcome within the flow of the piece. “Our Minuet” is an open waltz that featured a fantastic piano solo, and some very delicate group dynamics. Working through the head on soprano sax the melody completely dictates where the chords so elegantly change, and although this may sound typical it is anything but. Unfolding from a graceful piano solo, to a bit of group discussion, and finally closing with a soprano sax solo to bring it home the dynamic development exemplifies the groups control of their material.

At this point in the performance Redman took a quick second to introduce the group, and slyly counted off “Chill” from his album Moodswing. The title of this tune couldn’t be more perfect. A sly and laid back swing along with a head that just screams vibe the group appeared very relaxed in front of the attentive crowd. The group effortlessly threw in new colors over the changes in the form of re-harmonization (when one of the players utilizes different notes than those originally written/played to add color/direction). This piece showed off the conversational communication the group is so great at. Moving from the head to a very sly piano solo, the group just held the air around the notes effortlessly. In a feel like this (think of walking down the street snapping your finger to the stereotypical swing you might hear behind a stripper) it is easy to rush ahead and lose the comfortable pocket of air around the notes. The group effortlessly pushed and pulled that comfortable pocket of air (or sound) while teetering on the edge of anticipation.

The next selection entitled “Belonging” opened with a tenor sax solo, and was certainly the highest energy piece of the evening. Joshua Redman is an artist that just has a certain something about the tone he creates with his instrument. It is so very lyrical, personal, and unique that when you hear him play solo you realize how genuine a player he is. Utilizing a technique that he has popularized by “thwapping” his tongue against the underside of the mouthpiece/reed on his sax Redman attains a thick thumping bass sound from his sax that extends the range and allows him to explicitly outline the harmony (especially as a soloist). After a very driven solo by Redman, the group sneaks in behind him (as he switches to alto sax) with a rolling open vamp that works through a long harmonic phrase (once again the melody dictating the long harmonic phrase). This particular tune entitled “Belonging” exemplifies Redman’s uncanny ability to title his pieces accordingly. The changes in the opening vamp seem to instill a sense of home or simple comfort, almost as if the listener is where he or she “belongs.” After moving through the opening statements the piano and sax began a conversation type solo. This type of playing permutated the entire performance and established even further the strong communication these players have attained through their experiences together on the road.

After Aaron and Redman bring their conversation to a peak, the group drops dynamics for a bass solo. Reuben serves as the binding glue for the group. The rest of the players utilize a much more free rhythmic approach while Reuben holds the foundation that allows everyone the room they need to explore. This was quite a nice solo and it was very refreshing to hear the group still playing behind him, but so quietly that the bass was right out front. The form (or harmonic cell) that the solos occur over is quite interesting and certainly not an easy form to solo over. Reuben held it down and closing the solo by moving back to the foundation role so that Greg Hutchinson could give it a go. Give it a go he did. Working over the familiar vamp that began the piece he patiently told the story he had to tell working towards the restatement of the original melody. The form of this piece holds a very open feel, but sections like transitions between solos where Redman and Goldberg lock on a phrase turning the phrase around or moving to the next statement.

Next up was the standard “My One and Only Love.” This was a pretty standard version, and a platform for Joshua to show of his unique tone. Exercising a method known as circular breathing (where a horn player sustains a tone while taking a breath) Redman was able to extend his melodies, and develop them thoroughly. Another highlight of this tune was a fantastic bass solo by Reuben Rogers that was very lyrical, and had the audience edging forward with anticipation of each note.

Closing with the Gershwin standard “Summertime” the group displayed their ability to virtually recompose nearly each piece during the performance. Arranged in an odd time signature of 7/8 in a Latin inspired feel (meaning that there are 7 beats per bar of the melody instead of the symmetrical 8), the piece flows along precariously and lands on a comfortable swing for the bridge only to turn back around to the groove in 7/8 for the solos. After two more very energetic yet masterful solos by both Redman and Goldberg the group moved to the 7/8 vamp to provide Gregory Hutchinson a platform to solo. His solo began very patiently and moved along with controlled bombast. Executing broad sound/rhythmic swipes or broad brush stokes the drummer reached a fevering pitch climaxing and bringing the group back around to the top of the tune.

This weekends’ set at Blues Alley has me realizing once again how amazingly personal Joshua Redman’s tone is, and more importantly how prophetic an artist he is. There are plenty of players in today’s “jazz” world who simply don’t look for their own voice. Joshua Redman and his quartet are serious about making their own voice heard, yet retain the same genuine fire and sometimes sonority of previous masters. His new album Passage of Time is more than worth picking up. Not only because of the quality of the players, but the compositions as well. If you are an avid music fan it is your duty to get out and catch a performance of this group before it’s too late and the tour is over!

William Turfcott
JamBase | Atlantic Seaboard
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[Published on: 11/8/01]

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