Widely regarded as one of today’s most talented jazz saxophonists, Joshua Redman just released what is undoubtedly one of his most unique recordings to date. Appropriately titled Elastic, the new record displays a versatility and willingness to take new directions for a musician who has already established himself among contemporary circles.

Teaming up with longtime collaborator Brian Blade on the skins and newcomer Sam Yahel on the keys, Elastic features the smallest formation that Redman has worked with over the course of his ten-year career. Ironically, the record features the musician’s most expansive sound, and a clear departure from the acoustic work Redman has done almost exclusively in the past. As always, Redman showcases his distinctive voice on the saxophone, but his accompaniment makes great strides to give the album its unique feel.

Blade’s incredible drumming can be delicate one moment and explosive the next, but Yahel’s keyboard arsenal is what sets Elastic apart from Redman’s other recordings. Using a Rhodes, Korg, Clavinet and Hammond B3, Yahel achieves everything from discreetly textured backdrops on some tracks to more of a virtuosic centerpiece on others.

The album’s opening track, “Molten Soul” perhaps best reflects the elasticity of Redman’s new lineup. As Redman’s sax fills move from soothing and seductive to more direct and powerful, Blade and Yahel fill their roles with skillful tact.

Occasionally, Redman takes the more traditional approach with his music. Tunes like “Jazz Crimes” and “Letting Go” display Redman’s personal flavor in a more grounded framework. With slower numbers like “Long Way Home” and “Unknowing” Blade’s drumming is at its most subtle, allowing Redman to create an almost dreamlike presence with the saxophone.

But Redman also dabbles in groove on the album, most notably in “Boogie Lastic,” an almost dance-inducing track. “News from the Front” starts out funky, and then settles into a more delicate swing as Yahel experiments with spacey noodling unlike anything found in Redman’s previous catalogue. One of the more interesting pieces on the album is “The Birthday Song,” which begins with a Miles Davis-esque fusion section before settling into a beautiful descending progression that serves as an outro to the album. Elastic won’t come naturally for everyone. In as much as he challenges himself to break new ground musically, Redman seems to assume a willingness within his audience to absorb this unique new sound. Longtime fans will be surprised at the new approach, and newcomers without a palate for jazz will find the music daunting at times. But if you can lose yourself in it, you’ll realize the mastery with which Redman is able to blend existing jazz styles new and old, while at the same time adding something altogether his own to the mix.

If you like Elastic, you might also want to check out YaYa3, a collection of Yahel’s compositions recording by the same trio. It was these sessions that inspired Redman to write for this album’s format. If you’re weary, check out Redman’s Elastic Band live. They’re touring extensively in the next two months, with the first US date being September 16 in Boulder, CO.

Travis Langdon
JamBase | World Wide
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[Published on: 9/30/02]

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