Saturday, October 27, 2007

Joshua Redman At the Folly

Of the many pleasures afforded by the Folly Theater's venerable jazz series, one of the most consistently satisfying is each concert's "Jazz Talk." An hour prior to show time, the headliner chats with Folly executive director Doug Tatum on the historic stage. Depending on the artist, these discussions can be vastly entertaining or painfully awkward. They're almost always insightful.

Curious jazz fans discovered Friday night that saxophonist Joshua Redman is remarkably gracious, humble and engaging. He clearly relished talking about his craft. Here are a few choice quotes from Redman's discussion with Tatum.

*On the idea of inheriting a gift for music from his father Dewey Redman: "The majority of musicians I work with have more natural talent than I do."

*On his progress as a musician: "A lot of holes have developed in my playing and I'm in the process of filling them"

*On his years at Harvard: "I was basically a nerd. Not basically- I was a nerd."

*On his mother's music collection: "A Love Supreme and Sgt. Pepper's are the first albums I remember being albums." He noted that he was particularly impressed by Coltrane's album cover.

*On Sonny Rollins: "When I heard Sonny Rollins I understood what jazz improvisation could be."

*On Rollins' solos on Way Out West: "They had beginnings, middles and ends. They had an organic structure"

*On the trio format he presented Friday: "It's pretty terrifying. It's very difficult... You have to embrace the economy and sparsity of this context."

*On the development of his writing skills: "Composition is something that's come slower for me... I would write for the sake of improvisation... The more I compose I see it as the process in and of itself."

*On improvisation: "What I strive for is to be completely spontaneous at all times... (but) realistically, it's impossible." Redman added that he attempts to "systematically excise" routine and obvious licks and quotes from his playing.

*About a good performance: "There's a sense of being an agent. The music is playing you as much as you're playing the music."

Unfortunately, Redman's performance was less successful than his jazz talk.

Joined only by bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, the trio's two sets were technically flawless. The rhythm section was superlative, while Redman's tone on tenor and soprano was impeccable. The shaved heads sported by all three men symbolized their musical unity.

Yet much of the show seemed like an academic exercise, as if Redman had consciously limited himself to lurking in the towering twin shadows of Rollins and Coltrane.

One of the evening's few emotionally engaging moments was Redman's unaccompanied introduction to "Zarafah." His soprano conveyed a fierce debate with dialogue worthy of David Mamet. Each of Redman's "characters" pleaded, screamed and attacked until the fight was settled by the entrance of Rogers and Harland.

Too often, Redman's extended solos became tedious, so that it sometimes felt as if Harland had waited a couple minutes too long before bailing Redman out with a percussive explosion.

The trio format is a dangerous tight rope walk. Stumbles and even a few nasty spills are inevitable. When the three risk takers left the stage two and half hours later after they began their venture, they had earned their standing ovation.

Two final comments: I missed the first portion of the second set due to an impromptu meeting with a man regularly mentioned on this site. Secondly, it was discouraging to see hundreds of empty seats. I hope that when Bill Charlap's sublime piano work graces the Folly on November 16, more than the 450 people on hand to witness Redman show up.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

1 comment:

the unthinking lemming said...

I suppose I could have predicted what you report as a lack-luster performance. It takes more than 6 digit hit counts on YouTube, major label status and Hollywood good looks to make a jazz musician that can revive hope in a musical genre that has become mostly dormant. As fine a player as Redman is, he simply cannot lead a group that catches my attention beyond technical ability. He lacks the charisma and inspiration that I look for in the real deal jazz leader such as those I have mentioned before, James Carter and Joe Lovano.