Joshua Redman brought the world premier of his new collaboration to the upscale Bimbo's 365 under the name Joshua Redman's Elastic Band. The show was in support of the upcoming album due out September 10 on Warner Bros. The trio was comprised of master saxophonist Joshua Redman on soprano and tenor saxophones and keyboard effects, veteran soft touch skins man Brian Blade on drums, and young rising star, Sam Yahel on a slew of keyboards, including a Rhodes, Korg, Clavinet and Hammond B-3.

SFJazz is right on when they say, “Rooted in jazz tradition, but stretches in any number of inventive directions when these three master improvisers hit the stage." When Redman spoke, he exuded candid personality, and is obviously a natural on the microphone. I’m sure he was an easy choice as this year’s artistic director of the SFJazz Festival’s Spring Season.

The evening of music, both traditional and exploratory was a classy, sit-down jazz affair, for SFJazz members only. The concert brought an older audience than our usual demographic, and the smooth grooves from the stage had the older crowd smiling in their seats. This could have been the 1950's until the effects and toys broke out. But that’s when it got good.

Redman and Blade have clearly made plenty of music together, as they seem to have that higher connection, where they can break down a jam to a snail’s pace. Brian Blade, easily the coolest guy in the room with dark 'Miles Davis' shades and a soft touch on the kit, has a unique mastery over subtlety and volume control. While utilizing the nuances of the hi-hat and cymbals, he was also able to get out ahead of the beat, working his kit with a deft touch.

Some of this trio’s music hit the mark and some narrowly missed towards the smooth jazz realm that some of us turn our noses up at. The soprano saxophone is an inherently “cheesy” instrument (thanks Kenny G!), but Redman has the skill to rise above and make the soprano sing like a bird. Joshua Redman was most impressive in his obvious desire to not be content and satisfied as the young stallion of jazz. He does not simply regurgitate bebop as some critics have derided him for. He is deeper than that, he is reinventing himself with this trio, pushing music in another direction, growing as a musician.

The songs that were standouts featured Redman starting on saxophone, and moving to keyboard letting Yahel take the lead, with his intense, yet ethereal organ work. These compositions found Redman acting as the leader he is, with Yahel acting as the harmonizer and blender, typically on the Rhodes. This dynamic would quickly shift as Redman slid stage right to his keyboard machine, clearly taking a back seat as Blade and Yahel were left to perform primarily as a duo, with light coloring touches being added by Redman. Eventually the music would move to a more futuristic mentality with bleeps and blips firing out of the Korg. Redman would splash high end keyboard space noises as well flowing into a funky jazz groove, eventually bringing it full circle with Josh ending the song, providing the melody back with the sax.

The trio were able to perform as a true unit, giving each other plenty of space, always allowing room for someone to step up and improvise. Josh Redman, the biggest “name” on the stage, had no trouble stepping back and letting an organ/drums duo happen, which was refreshing, as many 'leaders' often have a hard time letting the other parts of the band shine. But that is often the difference between a real "band" and a one man show. This evening was clearly three amazing musicians combining for a greater purpose.

The choice of songs were primarily Redman originals, such as "The Long Way Home" which utilized the arrangement of Redman on soprano with Yahel spacing out on the Korg as they slipped into a more funky line as Redman found his way to the keys for impressive dueling keyboard interaction. The music would swell, and breath, leaving ample room for Yahel to really stretch out. This respect and confidence in Yahel was certainly one of the more remarkable aspects of the evening. Here you have a relatively unknown keyboard player in his late twenties who is clearly one of the most promising new organists on the New York City and international scene cutting his chops with Redman and Blade (who plays drums on Yahel's solo album as well). Not only does he fill the organ role, he is allowed to step into the limelight, and show off a bit, while always dancing in the mysterious deep sounds of the night. A very impressive introduction for Sam Yahel to many in the Bay area jazz scene.

The trio even performed a Yahel original "Slow Orbit" which again showed all three as masters of volume control and subtlety. They never played over one another, never forcing each other out, constantly playing with precisely the right intensity. Outside of originals they played one standard, "Will You Still Be Mine" followed by more Redman originals such as "Letting Go" and "Jazz Crimes."

Over all the music was received with open arms. The older crowd digging the more standard approach, but opening up to the funkier, more modern keyboard washes, while the few younger cats held tight to the space age keys, while appreciating, if not grooving on the more classical jazz pieces. These three could clearly spawn a groove to get people dancing, if given the correct room. Personally I would love to see this tour on the road, working the clubs, expanding on the groove allowing some real magic to come out of it. There is a lot of life in Joshua Redman's Elastic Band, look for it to break out of it’s shell this year starting September 8th in Paris (including dates at the Monterey Jazz Fest Sept. 20th and Zellerbach Auditorium September 21st). The tour will go 12-15 months and cover the world.

The Kayceman and Ted Kartzman
JamBase Mill Valley Home Court
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[Published on: 5/15/02]

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