By Bob Weinberg
They teased us, man. Fantasma advertised they were bringing young tenor saxman Joshua Redman to the Knight Center to play along with guitarist Pat Metheny. Didn't happen. Metheny and group played sans Redman.
But it's understandable that the Fantasma folks would make such a blunder: Metheny plays on Redman's latest, and the two have been touring together (even appearing at the Village Vanguard, where a pair of the album's tracks were recorded). Those familiar with Redman's burgeoning career -- yes, he's the son of tenorman Dewey Redman -- and Metheny's less-than-straight-ahead Love-jazz of recent years may rest easy: Metheny stays away from the achy-fakey stuff, playing lines so sweet and jazzy Jim Hall or Wes Montgomery would be proud. And the pairing doesn't hurt Redman any either as he mixes some relative obscurities (Bird's "Moose the Mooche" and Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround") with traditional-sounding originals (a live reprise of "Wish," from his debut album released earlier this year, and Metheny's "Whittlin'") and even a pop tune (Eric Clapton and Will Jenning's "Tears in Heaven").
This last may again ring alarm bells with purists, but Redman and Metheny avoid the pitfalls inherent in covering such spiritual-lite popstuff. Played straight with very little deconstruction (unlike, say, Sonny Rollins reinventing showtunes), Clapton's tearjerker comes across as a sweet-sounding, late-night sax ballad (think Hank Crawford) with some pretty guitar chords -- safe enough for mainstream radio play, artful enough to still be considered jazz.
Redman's first album -- actually recorded after this session -- was a remarkable exercise in versatility, showcasing the musician's mastery of everything from bebop to soul to ballads. (It takes balls to follow James Brown's "I Feel Good" with a Coleman Hawkins-styled "Body and Soul.") His sophomore effort seems more unified in theme and style, using Metheny as the Ariadne's thread that ties it all together in tone and substance. Rhythm is provided by grand bassman Charlie Haden, as stolid and stately as always (dig the solo on "Blues for Pat," Haden's compo), and drummer Billy Higgins, who adds understated and creative shadings with a subtle brush and stick touch. The heat of Redman's tenor is cooled considerably in these surroundings -- much like Rollins's Bridge work with Jim Hall -- and the interplay of sax/guitar/bass/drums is intimate conversation.
Redman is an extremely gifted player and composer, his original tunes -- "Soul Dance," "The Deserving Many," and "Wish" -- display depth, taste, and intelligence. They also show a reverence for reproducing styles from the best years of jazz's recent history. The challenge for Redman and other neo-traditionalists is finding something new to say, or a new way to say it. Like his old man did.
By J. C. Herz
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Most politically correct "cause" fundraiser anthologies have a lot of juicy names on the cover and a lot of mediocre outtakes and live tracks on the inside. It's as if the artist says, "Oh yeah, it's for the redwoods? Sure, um, we have a track. Hey, Bob, don't we have that live-in-Boise master lying around somewhere?" And you buy it, 'cause it's for a worthy cause (looks good on the CD shelf, impresses the babes). But it doesn't exactly live in your stereo. Not so with this AIDS benefit produced by the Red Hot Organization. It's not just a noble-deed purchase, it tastes good, too.
No Alternative's roster is a virtual who's who of alternative A Matthew Sweet, Buffalo Tom, Urge Overkill, American Music Club, Pavement, Bob Mould, Patti Smith, Soundgarden, and the Breeders, among others. It's a collection of high-quality original tracks and a couple of mondo covers A the Goo Goo Dolls sing the Rolling Stones's "Bitch" and, just to be perverse, Soul Asylum covers Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" (on an AIDS album? Rilly, Dave!). These tracks are not inferior to the bands' own album material, either A Sarah McLachlan's "Hold On" is right up there with her last hit, "Into the Fire," and the Verlaines cut is actually better than anything on their recent release. Go figure.
There's also a "mystery track." I'm not allowed to tell you who sings it, but, uh, think Seattle, flannel, overexposure...and...one of them's married to Courtney Love. But that's all I can say.