LIVE: The Joshua Redman Quartet @ The Egg, 11/7/13

Review by J Hunter

Joshua Redman’s played The Egg’s Swyer Theatre quite a bit over the years, both with his own bands and with the jazz supergroup James Farm. “This one of my favorite places to play,” Redman told us after breaking off a fast, nasty take on George Gershwin’s “Summertime” in concert last week. He added with a smile, “I only hate the big theater because I can’t fill the big theater!” Later in the show, he amended his take on the Hart Theatre. “Hate is a very strong word… That’s what I tell my seven-year old. ‘I hate eggplant!’ ‘No, no, you just hate the way DADDY makes eggplant.’ Let’s call it ‘envy’…”

It’s interesting to see the father in Redman, which we also saw in his post-tune description of the wild off-time rollercoaster “D.G.A.F.” He got big laughs when he confided, “That’s a tune I wish I HADN’T written…” The careening original would be a hefty job for any player, but that wasn’t the interesting part: The interesting part was when Redman refused to expand on what the title’s acronym stood for (not that it’s much of a guess), and then quickly corrected his language as he spoke about “when we play the shit out of it… I mean, the STUFF out of it!” Apparently, Redman does not subscribe to George Carlin’s satirical take on parents swearing in front of their children. (“Don’t say that, Johnny! Just hear it!”)

Maturity wears well on Redman. For instance, he wouldn’t have chosen to take on Great American Songbook pieces like “Summertime” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” in the past, preferring to stick with his own compositions. That moratorium ended after his time as Artistic Director of the interpretive powerhouse SFJAZZ Collective, which made him way more comfortable doing other people’s stuff. “Summertime” was definitely not the hot, lazy blues Gershwin wrote for “Porgy & Bess,” and Strayhorn’s protagonist in “Lush Life” is downright unapologetic in Redman’s funk-tinged take, only returning to the original version’s saloon-song vibe where the protagonist declares, “I’ll live a lush life in some small dive…”

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Redman switched back to his own catalogue after scorching us with an incendiary work-up of Charlie Parker’s “Chi-Chi” that finished with Redman in a duel to the metaphorical death with explosive drummer Gregory Hutchinson. “Let Me Down Easy” comes from Redman’s latest – and all-ballad – disc Walking Shadows, which includes classics like “Stardust” and “Infant Eyes,” but the soft, mournful original dovetailed well with the reputations of the older works. “Come What May” was a sweet blues that had Redman going high, wide and handsome, while “Disco Gaps” was a knockout groover that had pianist Aaron Goldberg moving between the spaces to make his own definitive statements.

When Redman’s on, he’s like water flowing over the rapids, firing statement after statement at you in rapid-fire fashion. He’ll occasionally hit long single notes to make a point, but overall it’s stream-of-consciousness soloing that leaves you breathless long before he runs out of breath himself. When Redman comes back to center stage from watching his band play, he’s almost running to the mic; his playing stance is aggressive even when the power of his solos gets him rubber-legged; and at one point neat the end of the show, Redman was still blowing when he walked away from the mic, and continued to play for a few measures as he watched Goldberg dive into another solo.

Goldberg doesn’t get half the love he deserves, mainly because he’s seen as a support player, and he gave Redman ample support when he wasn’t getting cataclysmic on “D.G.A.F.” or quoting “A Summer Place” in the opening to “Lush Life.” The same can be said for Hutchinson, who made his name with Betty Carter and Roy Hargrove, among many others: While these two did well on the evening, they still paled in comparison to some of the inspirational musicians who’ve played with Redman in the past – specifically, keyboardists Brad Mehldau (who produced Walking Shadows) and Aaron Parks, and perpetually-outside-the-box drummer Eric Harland. Bassist Reuben Rogers was definitely on the other side of the coin. A longtime Redman sideman who’s also backstopped iconic reedman Charles Lloyd, Rogers’ tone is as fat as a Thanksgiving turkey, and his expansive solo voice can easily be compared to Christian McBride, another early Redman cohort who went on to put his own name in lights.

Joshua Redman isn’t the best saxman on the scene, and I think he’d be the first to admit that. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who works harder, and who has worked as hard as Redman has to expand his creative comfort zone. He didn’t get two standing ovations on this evening because he’s Dewey Redman’s kid; he got them because it was a blast to watch him blast, as he kicked ass from start to finish.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “While Redman blew out front of the sound, the rhythm section of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Gregory Hutchinson on drums and Ruben Rogers on bass constantly opened and closed doors on one another, forcing Redman to turn on a dime. There was never a clear leader, only the emerging of one or the other, followed by submerging, then emerging again. Hutchinson was the most visible leader of the rhythm section, one of the best drummers on the circuit. He is quick, frenetic and awesomely controlled, often teasing the momentum with twitchy accents and disrupting tempos. He did this often during Charlie Parker’s ‘Chi Chi,’ which featured the first Rogers solo. Redman does not have a full lush sound, though he offers it when he wants to. He has a slightly thin, mid-thick tone that allows him to act quickly. At one point, Redman and Hutchinson traded every four bars, then two bars, then one bar, down to a half-bar with some overlap and wonderfully articulate phrasing.”

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