Ever since he came to national attention at the beginning of the 1990s, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman has defied the narrative of the wunderkind who bears prodigious talent, then declines. He’s taken on ambitious formats, often in the company of seasoned jazz gladiators, and Redman has more than held his mud. In the face of challenge, he’s flourished. His own bands and projects reflect a willingness to explore the unknown, yet there’s always a sense that the guard rails of his playing are firmly in place. Redman may search, but he doesn’t shoot in the dark.
That spirit of portent will be on full display at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Sunday, November 10, as the Joshua Redman Quartet shares the bill with those Midwestern bad boys of improvisation, the Bad Plus.
Redman’s current Come What May (Nonesuch) CD, reframes the chamber jazz proposition, which has often lapsed into a pose of can-you-top-this? Instead of being the constant focal point, and relegating his players to the support mode, Redman lets go of the musical reins. Sure, his shape-shifting tenor can slip from full-bodied chord to a sliver of altissimo multi-phonic in a front-line heartbeat. But he’s secure enough to relax with the material, without having to dominate the ensemble as a lead voice. Aaron Goldberg can find his own melodic trailways, or underline the chord changes beneath a Redman solo…or not. That approach to space opens up the music in intriguing ways. While bassist Reuben Rogers provides a strong rhythmic posture (somebody has to mind the store, after all), drummer Gregory Hutchinson can state the pulse, infer it, or even abandon it momentarily. It’s all good, and we’ll meet at the coda.
In a 2000 conversation, Redman outlined his credo: “My idea is very simple and basic—to present great, inspiring, creative music as played by great jazz artists who can challenge and inspire people. I don’t ever want marketing over substance.”
Nearly 20 years hence, he’s stuck to that dictum—and joined the gladiators.
Kirk Silsbee publishes promiscuously on jazz and culture.
Joshua Redman Quartet and the Bad Plus | CAP UCLA Royce Hall | Sunday Nov 10