Saturday, February 26, 2011

Joshua Redman

I saw a great performance on an improbable Sunday afternoon by Joshua Redman’s quartet at Portland, Oregon’s Performing Arts Center. It was near the end of the 2011 PDX Jazz Festival and I was only in town for the weekend, and there were only a few tickets left, so I was forced to spring for high-dollar seats, in the second row orchestra section, sitting right behind Joe Lovano, as it happened.

Online it said that Redman would have Aaron Parks as his piano player, and I have been following Parks since I “discovered” him, playing for tips in a Tully’s cafĂ© in Seattle some fifteen years ago. Alas, it was not to be. On piano was Aaron Goldberg, who is fully competent but not as exciting as the other Aaron. Redman did play a Parks-written tune, and acknowledged him as a good friend. Matt Penman was on drums and Eric Harland on Bass.

I have enjoyed saxophonist Redman (and his father, Dewey Redman), since the early ‘90’s, when he still had hair. His 1993 album, “Wish,” recorded with Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, is still a favorite. He has come a long way since then and now is a major star. In his mid forties, I would guess, he is an interesting-looking fellow, tall and lean, with long, slender fingers, and a head that runs diagonally from the crown of his shiny pate to the tip of his huge jaw and protruding lips. But none of that affects his great music. He plays straight ahead jazz, hot and complicated but without the squeaks, blats and whinnying horse sounds that many players (including Lovano) often resort to. But he also does a fine, lyrical ballad with real feeling.

Redman seems a very gentle soul, with a soft voice, utterly authentic. It is somewhat surprising that when getting ready to play, he has a genuinely worried look on his face, as if he were wondering if he would be up to it, if it would be good. I have no doubt he is worried about that, for his playing is alive and spontaneous. Nothing about it is rehearsed. He does not know what's going to happen, so he really is venturing into the void every time he plays. When his piece is finished and he raises his head from the saxophone, he looks completely disoriented. He glances around in a panic, trying to remember where he is and what is going on, as if he were emerging from a dream. And that is probably exactly what is happening in his head. He is a modern day shaman who guides us into another world.