on September 8, 2014
It may be the case that jazz is the music genre most likely to include covers of other artist's compositions on album. Perhaps this is due to the desire to innovate on, rather than simply honor by re-doing, a classic work. In jazz, this could mean a re-interpretation showing the covering musician's own input and originality with a standard, revealing new ways of approaching the original.
With saxophonist Joshua Redman's latest recording on Nonesuch, "Trios Live", Redman opens and closes the collection with two pairs of covers - but between them are the three best performances on the album - all originals penned by Mr. Redman himself.
The initial motif of "Soul Dance" sounds as if from a 70's Hollywood caper, but Redman quickly moves in many other melodic directions with his high-pitched alto sax. A vigorous crashing of drums and cymbals by Gregory Hutchinson and driving upright bass by Reuben Rogers midway through are filled with energy; the occasional cries and shouts heard in the second half of "Soul Dance" could be from the audience's enthused response to the performance, or from artists themselves, reveling in the intensity of their own performance. Redman's alto rises and falls, scales and de-scales vivace, but never loses its soulful voice.
"Act Natural" starts, mids and ends with a note-series, staccato-style, from Redman's tenor sax, framing a melody in this high-tempo epic. At twelve minutes, there is plenty of room here for Rogers and Hutchinson to stretch-out and improvise. In addition, Redman's monumental soloing, which, once started, continues on "Act Natural" almost without taking a breather. Half-way through, Redman shrieks a series of long, dissonant notes, abruptly drops the tempo, and moves in yet another direction before the finale.
True to its name, "Mantra #5" drops the quick ride-cymbal tapping for the most part and works a slower, but not sleepy, groove. A flute-like soprano sax solo directionlessly dances alone for over one minute before Hutchinson and bassist Matt Penman join in the jam. Picking up the tempo in the second-half brings some focus, but "Mantra #5" is the least structurally cohesive of the Redman originals, yet makes sense and sounds beautiful live.
Because there no harmonic instruments in play on "Trios Live", Joshua Redman is free from the chord constrictions found on some of his piano quartet or larger ensemble recordings. Consequently, the performances on "Trios" are more free-flowing, allowing Mr. Redman to rapid-fire solo and quickly change direction throughout the album, but especially on Mr. Redman's self-penned originals. Why he chose to sandwich them between admittedly interesting takes on the war horse "Mack the Knife", Thelonious Monk's worn "Trinkle, Tinkle", or Led Zeppelin's classic "The Ocean" only Mr. Redman can say. Perhaps, as stated previously, Mr. Redman felt he could shed new light with his interpretations and arrangements. Then again, maybe Joshua (or the powers at Nonesuch) felt the only way to get listeners to hear (and buy) Redman's original compositions was to have them book-ended by songs already so well known to jazz fans.
Although not the innovator that his father, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, was, Joshua Redman is without doubt a masterful, versatile musician and composer, able to perform with a wide range of artists in a variety of formats.
After his performance on last year's immaculate, but at times dry, "Walking Shadows", a collection of mostly-covers with Mr. Redman backed by a symphony orchestra, "Trios Live" is a welcome return to live, small-ensemble blowing, revealing both the energy of his playing and the capabilities of his composing.