Joshua Redman Quartet Plus Joe Lovano - July 5, 2009
By Mark Chodan
Startling realization: I haven't really listened to any mainstream jazz in (gasp) 15 years. This was my first thought as the Redman quartet (+1) were into the first notes of the head of the first piece of the show at Salle Gésu. While I had listened to my share of Redman and especially Lovano in the early 90s, this was sure to be an interesting re-visiting of a genre I had slowly drifted away from over the years.
Not only was the style very much mainstream, so was the program. Starting out with Booker Little and ending with a Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons tune, they covered Shorter, Coleman, Tristano, as well as one original piece each, Redman's "Mantra #5" and Lovano's "Blackwell's Message".
Lovano's prowess on tenor was certainly as powerful as I remembered. A truly unique voice on the instrument, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a lot of classic Lovano licks had been parsed from his playing as I remembered it from years back. This is certainly an attestation to Lovano's power as an improviser. On an instrument on which there is no lack of verbose players, I found Lovano's playing to be mainly in the service of the music, despite his astounding technical abilities.
Redman surprised me within the first minutes of his solo on "Rounder's Mood" of how much he sounded like Sonny Rollins (or was that a visual cue due to his haircut?). His playing has really opened up over the years, sounding very confident and clean, perhaps even cautious. There was a refinement in his playing (and crystalline tone) that made me question "at what expense?" Redman was obviously humbled by Lovano's playing, made clear by Redman's self-effacing comments between the pieces. I guess it is a bit tough to be faulting Redman for maybe holding back a bit given his sharing of the stage with a contemporary tenor monster.
The rhythm section provided the necessary support for the tenor-fest as one would expect, although with only with few solo spots for the musicians. Bassist Reuben Rogers laid down the bottom end with very much the same level of perfection as Redman's own playing (is there such a thing as too much perfection?) I got the feeling that opening up the role of the bass in this context would have brought the music in some different and stimulating directions. Pianist Sam Yahel suffered from amplification problems both in the hall as well as, apparently, from his monitors. Once the problem resolved half way through the performance, it became apparent that his playing is very minimalist, offering interesting colouring but rarely asserting himself within the ensemble. I must say that when given some space, Yahel's playing was among the most harmonically interesting of the concert. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson's performance was very strong in the mold of the great percussion masters, including a great deal of surprise and wit given the context.
Overall, a very strong performance, but one ultimately locked into the roughly 60 year-old tradition. While not necessarily merely creating embellishments on an established music, Redman's quartet and guest were certainly not questioning too many known musical parameters which are currently under investigation by others in other areas of the art.