Saxman Joshua Redman builds ‘Momentum’
November 10, 2005
Jazz, old and new.Joshua Redman Elastic Band, “Momentum”produced by Redman and Sam Yahel “SF Jazz Collective”produced by Jeff Cressman(Nonesuch)Among contemporary jazz artists, saxophonist Joshua Redman is building one of the more easy-to-read career arcs. The Berkeley-born son of free-jazz player Dewey Redman, Redman began his career – after turning down an acceptance from Yale Law School – as a player long on flash and funk. Over a handful of late-’90s and early 2000s recordings, he went through a more traditional, mellow period. Redman seems to have absorbed all that accumulated wisdom. With his Elastic Band, Redman is able to direct his music in all kinds of directions. “Momentum” certainly leans toward loose-limbed groove, no surprise given the room he provides for electric keyboardist/organist Sam Yahel, and guests like Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno. On “Greasy G,” the sound gets way out there; a take on Led Zeppelin’s “The Crunge” recalls the original Headhunters. But there are also moments of tight melodicism, as on an interpretation of Sheryl Crow’s (!) “Riverwide.”Redman is also at the heart of the SF Jazz Collective; the octet was born out of the SF Jazz, which Redman serves as artistic director. Not all the players are from San Francisco; in fact, the players represent different regions (New York, New Orleans, Puerto Rico), different age groups (the group is mostly young, but also includes elder vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson) and different musical sensibilities (avant-garde, post-bop, funk). But on this live recording, the collective comes together admirably. The modern, midsize ensemble sound speaks more of a unit that has done its homework than a open-ended jam session. “SF Jazz Collective” pays particular tribute to Ornette Coleman, the free-jazz pioneer (and a close associate of Dewey Redman). The set list features three Coleman tunes, plus four by individual members of the Collective.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, “The Sameness of Difference”produced by Joel Dorn (Hyena)For lots of reasons, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is worth keeping an ear on. (The fact that the avant-garde trio of acoustic pianist Brian Haas, bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Jason Smart hails from Oklahoma is not necessarily one of those reasons, but it is a curious thing.)The trio has stunning breadth of musicality; a cover of Bjork’s “Isobel” here ranges from the most delicate and romantic passages to stomping post-rock beats. For a hook to the more mainstream listener, they also interpret on “The Sameness of Difference” Neil Young (“Don’t Let It Bring You Down”), Hendrix (“Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland”) and the Beatles (a live take at “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” on this otherwise studio album). Their originals, like the nerve-jangling “Haliburton Breakdown,” are equally catchy. And the trio seems to still be on the uphill side of their inventiveness; this is their best recording yet. It’s a shame that Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey hasn’t gotten the attention that another postmodern piano trio, the Bad Plus, has. They’re at least as good.The Bad Plus, “Suspicious Activity?”produced by Tchad Blake and the Bad Plus (Columbia)One thing the Bad Plus grabs listeners is with the production of its music. As on their last two CDs, the trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King employ producer Tchad Blake, whose edgy sensibility has been featured on albums by Los Lobos, Tom Waits and Suzanne Vega. So on “Suspicious Activity?” the sound is upfront, full and clear. It sounds almost like rock, where Jacob Fred sounds like jazz. What the Bad Plus doesn’t do here is feature their take on recognizable pop songs; the only non-original here is the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” (Past albums have had tunes by Nirvana, the Pixies, Blondie and Black Sabbath.) Otherwise, it’s the same experimental mash-up of driving rock and improvised jazz.
Bill Frisell, “East/West”produced by Lee Townsend (Nonesuch)Guitarist Bill Frisell seems to have moved on from the jazz/country hybrid he explored through a series of albums beginning with 1997’s “Nashville.” Last year’s “Unspeakable” was a detour into funky stuff, and “East/West” is something wholly new again. The two-CD live set, recorded in Oakland and New York, focuses fairly heavily on other writers, beginning with the Motown classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and ending with Johnny Cash’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” (and hitting Dylan, Gershwin, Willie Nelson, Barbra Streisand’s “People” and the Ledbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” in between). Although the wealth of familiar tunes makes for a bit of a song-oriented experience, Frisell and his trios are likewise committed to sonic exploration of all kinds – acoustic oddness on Nelson’s “Crazy,” a comical destruction of “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” and a softer than a pindrop, slower than a local train, take on Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”Wynton Marsalis, “Live at the House of Tribes”produced by Delfeayo Marsalis (Blue Note)Leave it to Wynton Marsalis to do something tiny in a big way. “Live at the House of Tribes” finds the trumpeter/jazz spokesperson leading a septet in a live performance at the House of Tribes, a 50-seat space on New York’s Lower East Side. Marsalis, accustomed to bigger things, takes to the intimacy beautifully. From the opening tune, a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys,” the house is on fire. (As is saxophonist Warmdaddy Anderson, who smokes on a long, marvelous solo.) You can feel the smallness of the room, with fans cheering and sounds practically reverberating off the walls.Sonny Rollins, “Without a Song, the 9/11 Concert”produced by Sonny & Lucille Rollins(Milestone)Sonny Rollins was at home Sept. 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers tumbled down six blocks away. Four days later, the septuagenarian saxophonist was in Boston with his sextet, performing their scheduled gig. Despite the circumstances, “Without a Song” has a buoyancy to it. The song titles – “Without a Song,” Rollins’ own “Global Warming,” Jerome Kern’s “Why Was I Born?” – suggest a somberness and weight. But Rollins defied the mood of that week by giving an upbeat concert that might have been odd then but sounds great now.
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, “At Carnegie Hall”produced by T.S. Monkand Michael Cuscuna (Blue Note) John Coltrane, “One Down, One Up, Live at the Half Note”produced by Ravi Coltrane (Verve)It’s only a little bit sad that the biggest stir in jazz of late comes from the discovery of a nearly 50-year-old tape long thought to be lost for eternity. But then you listen to what is on that tape, read the extensive liner notes, and you experience the sort of moment that doesn’t happen much in jazz these days. Carnegie Hall. Two giants, both entering new phases of their artistic lives. (Coltrane in 1957 had just kicked his heroin habit; Monk, after a decade of tough times, was capping his rebound with his debut at Carnegie Hall.) So “Monk at Carnegie Hall” is a historical find worth celebrating.For me, the first official release of “One Down, One Up” is equally newsworthy. Recorded in 1965, low-quality tapes of the two-set performance were the rave among the select jazz fans who heard them. Coltrane’s classic quartet – with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones – had been in place several years, and was the most influential thing in jazz. “One Down, One Up” makes it clear why. Coltrane and company played with an intensity that has yet to be matched. The two discs contain a total of just four songs, but Coltrane and Tyner needed 15-20 minutes to get their energy out.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com