Joshua Redman - Come What May

Label: Nonesuch, 2019

Personnel - Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; Aaron Goldberg: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Gregory Hutchinson: drums.

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Renowned American saxophonist Joshua Redman certainly knows how to make a quartet sound great. And he currently leads more than one. The recently formed Still Dreaming group - with cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Brian Blade - made its debut last year with satisfying results, but what we have in hands now is the third outing (the first in nearly two decades) from his older quartet. Besides Redman, Come What May features Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. It’s hard to say which of the quartets sounds better, but it’s not so difficult to conclude that none of them is a redundant entry in the saxophonist’s impressive discography.

The cleverly-written “Circle of Life” opens the record exhibiting meticulous bass-piano unisons before settling into a propulsive, spirited, and mesmerizing 3/4 groove. Redman’s compositional inspiration strikes in the form of colorful layers and ostinato-fueled interactions, and his vibrant solo benefits from the impeccable support of the tight-knit rhythm team.

Goldberg, in particular, approaches the music with a lot of heart, which seems to give extra motivation to his colleagues in the rhythm section. That’s perceivable on the gently funkified “I’ll Go Mine”, where his marvelously dissonant chords band together with Hutchinson’s cool backbeat. Expertise and enlightenment are important aspects in the improvisations from piano and sax, with the soloists putting extra effort into a thrilling vamp accentuated by Redman's bracing phrases and Goldberg’s wide capacity to counterpoint.

Also incorporating a vamp, yet not at its tail end, “DGAF” boasts an argumentative folk melody that manages to clear some space for the drummer’s conversational fills. Ambling with a similar energy, the rhythmically elaborated “What We Do” is melodically dependent on a candid bluesy riff subjected to parallel movements. This is pure post-bop elasticity with shifts in key and swinging demand.

By allying sheer muscle and elegance within a refined eclectic posture, “Stagger Bear” provides one of the most exciting moments on the album. It upholds punctilious bass movements hand-in-hand with the pianist’s fairly active left hand, variable drumming intensities with segmented rock muscle, a soulful hip-hop piano vibe, and sax-piano staccatos. Saxophonist and pianist alternate bars throughout, showing that they speak the same language.

Both the title track and the closing number, “Vast”, are ballads of different nature. Whereas the former is a typical brushed waltz, the latter uses the curved shape of its melody and arpeggiated piano texture to immerse us in a sublime spiritual mood. Redman’s piercing notes yields a musical epiphany to be revisited.

This formidable body of work not only shows how mature this quartet grew throughout the years, but also how Redman strengthened and deepened his sound and style.

Grade  A

Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
02 - I’ll Go Mine ► 06 - Stagger Bear ► 07 - Vast


Joshua Redman - Still Dreaming

Label: Nonesuch Records, 2018

Personnel - Joshua Redman: tenor saxophone; Ron Miles: cornet; Scott Colley: double bass; Brian Blade: drums.

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After fruitful collaborations with The Bad Plus (2015) and Brad Mehldau (2016), virtuoso saxophonist/composer Joshua Redman releases his long-awaited studio album in the company of established cohorts Ron Miles on cornet, Scott Colley on bass, and his first choice drummer, Brian Blade.

Redman’s inspirations for Still Dreaming were his father and the avant-garde jazz quartet Old and New Dreams, whose members included Dewey Redman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell, all former sidemen of groundbreaking altoist Ornette Coleman. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the two covers on the album, Ornette’s “Comme Il Faut” and Haden’s untrammeled “Playing”, give us a wonderful taste of that generation. The former is tackled with reverence, unity, and a new feel, while the latter features impromptu interchanges between saxophone and cornet, a productive dialogue underpinned by the bowed bass. Once the drummer becomes active, the tune falls into a combustible pulse driven by a great sense of locomotion.

Colley contributes two compositions: the elated opener, “New Year”, is evocative of the band they got inspiration from, providing a disrupted folk-inflected melody in the A section and an ephemeral swinging flow in the B, as well as eight-bar trades between the bassist and the drummer, consolidating their unpretentious rhythmic communication. In turn, “Haze And Aspirations” is an affable, rhythmically brushed 3/4 piece introduced by unaccompanied bass and suffused with parallel moves, occasional counterpoint, and melodious statements.

Redman’s “Blues For Charlie” may be considered a chant, whose melody, first expressed by a solitary saxophone, is gradually thickened with bass and cornet in crescent unisons. With greater dynamics comes “Unanimity”, a grooving enchantment conceived by the bandleader who dives eloquently into his neo-bop versatility. On the contrary, Miles is never rushed, often using easy melody and notable motifs to give a clear-cut testimony.

Culminating the colorful sonic mosaic is the “The Rest”, initially a folkish, rubato piece that veers to a frank, emotional dialogue before invoking Ornette’s “Lonely Woman” in a razor-sharped finale. Built with earnestness, the foundation has Colley plucking and bowing while Blade mixes brushes and mallets for a wider tonality.

Simple structures, complex emotions; Still Dreaming emanates passion for another musical era and Redman, besides talking from the heart in his ear-catching improvisations, strengths the repertoire with an indefatigable sense of collectivity.

       Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Unanimity ► 03 - Haze And Aspirations ► 06 - Playing


Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau - Nearness

Joshua Redman: saxophone; Brad Mehldau: piano.

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Only wonderful things could happen when the saxophonist Joshua Redman and the pianist Brad Mehldau, two longtime friends and creative minds of equal caliber, joined forces and let it out what their musical souls contain.
Recorded live during their European tour, Nearness touches an absolute emotional richness and its six duets - three originals and three covers - are to be cherished as real treasures.

This memorable celebration starts with Parker’s “Ornithology”, here transformed into a stylish neo-bop stretch that brings the flavors of the past mixed with a contemporary vision presented in the form of a superior musical wit. 
The mood changes with Mehldau’s “Always August”, a beautiful tune that went straight under my skin, aiming to the heart with all its influential assertiveness. Heavenly piano chords carry a vital, soulful pulse from which is impossible to stay indifferent. Redman is an unconditional giver, fulfilling the spaces with clever melodic delineations while Mehldau is better than ever, lighting up a consistent fire that lasts from the first to the last minute.

If still among us, Thelonious Monk would be certainly grateful for the fantastic rendition of his tune “In Walked Bud”, which boasts distinguished variations. Sporadically, the improvisers throw in fragments of the original’s main theme, permitting us to recognize the tune without falling in the obvious. Mehldau’s piano work attains a perfect balance through the inspiring and complementary sounds extracted by his left and right hands. By the end, the duo embarks on trades of eight, and then four bars, letting me more and more speechless with the coherence of their conversations.

The melancholy insinuated in the title “Mehlsancholy Mode” is only true until a certain point. In truth, I felt more alert than ever, in an attempt to absorb every idea suggested and the prompt responses that arrived from the other side.
Following “The Nearness of You”, a renowned jazz standard played with tasteful intimacy, we have Mehldau’s “Old West” whose pop music connotations are totally appropriate to conclude. This tune insists in cyclic harmonic sequences and unobscured melodies, evolving to irresistible solos that sweep the sky, whether as soft breezes or controlled wind gusts.

Mature, freeing and sophisticated, Nearness is a colossal record that will spin for a long time around here. I hope you can also feel this vibrant nearness that Redman and Mehldau are now sharing with the world.

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Always August ► 03 – In Walked Bud ► 06 – Old West