BLOODLINES: Back East reflects on many of Joshua Redman’s musical relationships, including the one with his father.
It must be daunting to have Joshua Redman’s talent. Raised by a single mother of modest means in Berkeley, he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and was accepted to Yale Law School in 1991, the same year he won first place in the Thelonious Monk competition. In no time, it seemed, he had moved to the forefront of modern jazz, joining heavy-hitting veterans as a sideman, leading his own bands on Warner Bros. (a label not known for mainstream jazz), and packing concert halls as few of his peers — or even his elders, including his dad, Dewey Redman — could.
Redman — who has a new album, Back East, on the Warner subsidiary Nonesuch and comes to Berklee this Sunday — was no joke. Even back then he had thoroughly absorbed the modern jazz language — particularly the saxophone language — of the past 40 years, and he played serious straight-ahead jazz in traditional acoustic quartets. If he lacked the overall technical mastery of, say, James Carter, he still played with fluency, power, and imagination. And if he lacked Carter’s taste for playing “outside,” he also had a better instinct than most for creating excitement in live performances. His solos took off — without faking or deploying cheesy theatrics, Redman created the kind of dramatic arch that could get an audience screaming. He was an honest player who could blow the roof off.
It’s been six years since he released his last acoustic jazz album as a leader. He’s been busy with the SFJazz Collective (he’s the artistic director of the San Francisco performing-arts organization from which it sprang) and with his Elastic Band, which has been exploring the electric-jazz tradition of Miles Davis, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, and Eddie Harris.
Back East is a look back in many ways — to the East Coast jazz he listened to and played as a young star in his 20s, to the variety of “Eastern” musics his mother, the dancer Renee Shedroff, exposed him to as a child in Berkeley. It’s also an homage to saxophonists who inspired him, primarily Sonny Rollins, whose Way Out West essentially created the saxophone-trio tradition in 1957. And it pays tribute to Dewey Redman, who died in September of last year, and who plays on two tracks. On two other tracks, the guest saxophonists are Joe Lovano and Chris Cheek. (The rhythm teams are Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, Christian McBride and Brian Blade, all bass and drums, respectively; McBride and Blade join Redman at Berklee.)
On the album, you can hear Redman’s command as player and writer. His own pieces look East — with the gamelan-like melodic pattern of “Indonesia,” the Moroccan-tinged soprano of “Zarafah,” the raga-like scales of “Mantra #5.” The theme is complemented by the other composers: Coltrane’s “India” (on which Joshua plays with Dewey), Wayne Shorter’s “Indian Song,” even the Brooks Bowman standard, associated with Stan Getz, “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon).” Rollins gets two tunes from Way Out West, “I’m an Old Cowhand” and “Wagon Wheels,” and another that he’s recorded, “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” Redman puts his stamp on these pieces with his Eastern-flavored arrangements. And his own hurtling “Back East” recalls Rollins’s “East Broadway Rundown” in its muscular attack and articulation.