Born: Feb 1, 1969 in Berkeley, CA
Styles: Neo-Bop, Post-Bop, Straight-Ahead Jazz, Jazz Instrument, Saxophone Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Fusion
Instruments: Sax (Tenor), Sax (Soprano)
Every few years it seems as if the jazz media go out of their way to hype one young artist, overpraising him to such an extent that it is easy to tear him down when the next season arrives. In the early '90s, Joshua Redman briefly became a media darling, but in his case he largely deserved the attention. A talented bop-based tenor man, Redman (who will probably never be an innovator) is a throwback to the styles of Red Holloway and Gene Ammons, but also has an inquisitive spirit and can play intriguing music when inspired.
The son of the great tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, Joshua graduated from Harvard and (after debating about whether to become a doctor) he seemed headed toward studying law at Yale. However, Redman came in first place at the 1991 Thelonious Monk competition, landed a recording contract with Warner Bros., and was soon on the cover of most jazz magazines. Pat Metheny was a guest on one of his albums (the Redman-Metheny interplay during their engagements was quite memorable), and although Redman has had success constantly touring with his own group, it is a pity that his apprenticeship period as a sideman was so brief.
In 1996, Joshua Redman recorded and briefly toured with Chick Corea's "Tribute to Bud Powell" sextet; the solo Timeless Tales (For Changing Times) followed in 1998, and in 2000 he returned with Beyond. Passage of Time appeared in early 2001 and was followed by a lengthy tour of the U.S. The next year, Elastic appeared in stores with an uncharacteristically humorous sight gag adorning the cover. That also reflected on the music, which was more adventurous and playful than in the past, owing a debt to his electronica and experimental rock influences. In 2005, Redman made the move to Nonesuch and released Momentum. Back East followed in 2007, with Compass arriving early in 2009.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
Several years ago, when Joshua Redman had only two studio albums to his credit, he told Down Beat magazine, "Jazz is a calling. In order to be a serious professional jazz musician, you need that calling…It [isn't] a rational decision [but something that's] spiritual and emotional." In committing himself to that lofty pursuit, the saxophonist has not only consistently released top-notch recordings, but he has also become one of the most celebrated and popular young artists in jazz today.
On his seventh and latest Warner Bros. CD, Beyond, the 31-year-old Redman offers further proof that he's dedicated to creatively exploring new territory. "My career has been an adventure," he says. "But this album represents a new stage in the journey. It's definitely an extension of what I've done, but it's deeper, more patient, more mature, more personal than the other records."
Hailed as the "crown prince of the tenor saxophone" by the Associated Press, Redman has come to enjoy a meteoric rise in commercial and critical success since he won the 1991 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Competition. The son of tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, Joshua burst onto the jazz scene in 1993 with his self-titled debut and Wish, which combined sold over a quarter of a million copies, unheard of outside the pop-jazz arena. He followed that with such superb outings as Moodswing (1994), the double-CD Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard (1995), Freedom in the Groove (1996) and Timeless Tales (for Changing Times) (1998).
On Beyond, Redman unveils ten originals that are both compelling in their complexity (including odd time signatures and polymetric structures) and alluring in their unadorned beauty (from catchy grooves to indelible melodies). His quartet delivers upbeat tunes that burst with dynamics, gently swinging numbers with reflective interludes and lyrical gems teeming with passion. Highlights include the double tenor jaunt with guest saxist Mark Turner through "Leap of Faith" and the moving romantic ballad, "Neverend," that Redman sings on his saxophone.
"Just as always, the music here is performed with honest expression," he explains. "I'm not deliberately trying to write material that's difficult to play. The complex forms are not ends in themselves." He cites as an example Beyond's uptempo lead-off tune "Courage (Asymmetric Aria)," which is in 13/4 time. "I heard this bass line and I didn't know what it was. I kept trying to write it down in 4/4 time, but the more I explored what I was hearing the more I realized how complex it was. Playing in 13 is not easy, but the piece is rooted in a rolling groove and a haunting melody, which give it a relaxed feel. That's the way it works on the entire album. There's a balance between complexity and simplicity, between formal sophistication and emotional directness."
Key to Beyond's success is the quartet Redman has assembled for the recording: pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. It was a wish-list band for the saxophonist who enlisted the simpatico personnel to support the tour for his last album, Timeless Tales. He found that the group not only brought a fresh perspective to the old numbers but also approached the new compositions he was writing with insightful depth.
"We found a common ground to express ourselves as individuals within a group," says Redman. "It's all about camaraderie, chemistry, creativity and commitment. You can have the four greatest players on the planet come together, but if there's no empathy or sense of community, the music will sound uninspired. It was my goal to make this album a statement of our collective identity. I conceived all these songs with Aaron, Reuben and Greg in mind."
That's evident in the music. Instead of the basic theme-solo-theme jazz formula, Beyond showcases a collective sensibility of improvisation. While one musician is in the solo spotlight, the rest of the band is playing more than just a supportive role. "There's instrumental give-and-take and shadowing that keeps the music fluid and spontaneous," says Redman. "For example, ideas the other guys were developing would inspire me to go in different directions when I'd be taking a solo. As a band we told collective stories all the way through the recording."
The underlying theme of Beyond is Redman's personal quest to come to grips with the spiritual significance of life. "All the songs are musical explorations of a search for meaning," he explains. "I hesitate to say the word because it often gets used in a trite way in pop culture, but this is a spiritual record for me. It reflects those deeper questions I've been thinking about the last few years."
The opening track, "Courage," is based around a groove that's established by the piano and bass. It creates a hypnotic rolling effect, which keeps the tune with its unsettling 13/4 time signature simultaneously grounded and propelled forward. The melody is simple, the harmony open and both Redman's tenor sax solo played in the altissimo range and Goldberg's surging piano solo establish different moods. As for the title of the ebullient number, Redman laughs and says that it can mean two things: the courage to play this difficult number as well as the daring to "passionately search for meaning by confronting a world that doesn't give us easy answers."
Just as "Courage" is subtitled "Asymmetric Aria," the second number, "Belonging," has a balance-challenged subtitle: "Lopsided Lullaby." It is characterized by a 9/4 time signature, a playful theme and an inspired alto-piano exchange. "It's got an asymmetric groove like 'Courage' but rhythmically it's a stronger song," says Redman, who notes that even though the tempo may be a little fast for a lullaby, the sing-songiness of the melody reminds him of one. A highlight of the tune is the empathic interplay between Redman and Goldberg.
Redman romances gorgeously on "Neverend." Written for his wife, the tune was composed in 1995 and recorded on his Village Vanguard live album. He hadn't intended to revisit it, but realized that Beyond lacked a true ballad. "I usually record something once and then move on. But it had evolved over the years, so I decided to try it. I rarely make absolute statements, but I've got to say that this is the best ballad I've ever played on record. I'm really happy with this one."
Featuring guest Mark Turner, "Leap of Faith" marks the first time Redman has invited another horn player to record with him. The two have been friends since the late '80s when they both lived in Boston. "We came up playing together," says Redman. "Over the years I've probably learned more from him than any of my other peers." On the tune, the two open by performing a slow pirouette, then take off in a dazzling display of collective improvisation. "We transcend the classic tenor-battle mode when we play together. It's not about competition. It's about communication. Everything on this track happened organically. We had no preconceived ideas and this was a first take."
Redman also points out the Eastern music flavors in the tune, noting that when he was very young he learned how to play Indian drums and performed in a gamelan orchestra. "I've always loved that music and it's always been a part of me. I guess it's coming to the fore a little more now."
Redman plays the soprano sax on the lyrical "Balance," which, given its title, is appropriately in 4/4 time. Even though the tone is quiet for most of the number, Redman and the rest of his band let loose with gusts of emotional energy during the dynamic climax. He notes that this tune with its interlocking parts and a leaping bass line is the album's densest from a harmonic and structural standpoint.
Clocking in at 11 minutes, "Twilight…and Beyond" is the album's epic number. The opening theme was originally written for Twilight, Anna Deveare Smith's play about the Los Angeles riots. Over time, Redman developed the piece further with his band and expanded it into a suite-like form that builds with emotional and spiritual intensity. "What I like most about this is that it conveys a continuous story," Redman says. "There are several chapters that are linked together by the fluidity of the band's collective interaction."
"Stoic Revolutions," played in 6/4 time and featuring swells of improvisational ecstasy, is a play on the phrase "stoic resolution." "We're definitely not being stoic in the sense of being dispassionate," says Redman with a laugh. "We play it with intensity, hunger and fire. But we are resolute; we're stubborn to move forward. Nothing's going to stop us. Structurally the tune is written as a harmonic cycle which is where the revolution comes from."
"Suspended Emanations" (another punnish title with its play on "suspended animation") is rhythmically unusual (10/4 time) and harmonically unique. "The chords are my version of suspended harmony," notes Redman, who serves up the seesaw melody line on soprano sax. "More than any other track on the record, this demonstrates the strength of the group's interactive sensibilities."
"Last Rites of Rock 'n' Roll" opens with an Eastern modal feel (Redman offering a tenor sax drone and light lyrical touches) then quickly works its way into the rollicking zone. It's obvious the band is having a blast. And the title? Redman laughs. "Rather than say what it means, I think I'll leave it a mystery. But I'm definitely not dissing rock 'n' roll. I love it and I don't feel that it's dead."
Beyond ends on a ruminative note with "A Life?," a tune in 5/4 time that again places the band on exhibit. In the six-minute piece Redman doesn't come in until the three-minute mark. "No one definitively states the melody," Redman explains. "This is not a piece where the thematic statement is out front. Each player takes a turn alluding to the melody in his improvisation which is then expounded upon by the next player."
At the time of Beyond's release, Redman will be busy not only taking these tunes on the road but also doing double duty as the Artistic Director and artist-in-residence of the San Francisco Jazz Festival's SFJAZZ Spring Season 2000. Chicago Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich writes, "The addition of a sweeping, March-June season of themed programs and the hiring of a major young soloist to provide artistic direction suggest that the presenters on the Left Coast are entering the big leagues." Redman-a Bay Area native who cut his jazz teeth in the renowned music program at Berkeley High School during the mid '80s and has lived in New York for the past decade, describes the SFJAZZ approach as "thematic and eclectic, which is in keeping with the Bay Area…where music always has been less about rigidly defined musical styles and more about the interaction of many musical cultures."
While the directorship is a prestigious honor for the saxophonist, he doesn't let the accolades go to his head. "The more I develop musically, the more gaping holes I see," Redman says. "The more I advance as a saxophone player, bandleader and composer, those holes seem that much bigger. But that's the beauty and the challenge of jazz-it's inspiring but also humbling. Jazz is all about the search, not so much about the achievement. The achievements happen in the moment. You attain certain things and then you move on. But the search, that's constant."