Joshua Redman is probably one of the better-known jazz sax players these days. He should be, since he’s been at it since the early 1990’s. Experience doesn’t always indicate success, but in today’s music world, a bad jazz artist isn’t likely to last thirty months, let alone thirty years.
Redman was born in Berkeley, California on February 1, 1969. His father, Dewey Redman, was a tenor sax player of some repute, and his mother, Renee Shedroff, was a dancer. When he was nine years old be began playing clarinet, but a year later he set it aside for the tenor sax. (And wouldn’t you just love to see a family photo of Redman as a scrawny 10 year old boy, dwarfed by his tenor sax? I would!)
While in high school, he was a member of the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and Combo. After high school he attended Harvard University, where he earned a degree in social studies.
While taking a year off from his studies before a planned plunge back into academia, this time at Yale, he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. (Why anyone would name a saxophone competition after a world-class pianist is a question that has always bugged me. Well, okay, it has not always bugged me. It has bugged me ever since it occurred to me, which was about five minutes ago.)
As a result of Redman winning that competition, regardless of the reason for its name, the world now has one more superb saxophonist whose labors we can enjoy, and one lawyer* less to jeer at.
That’s what I call a win-win.
The Redman album I want to tell you about this time around was recorded in 1993, barely two years after he turned his back on Yale and became a professional musician. It was also his second album as a leader, and is called simply “Wish.”
The personnel for “Wish” are A-List all the way:
“Wish” consists of ten songs all together. Three were written by Redman himself, two by Metheny, one by Haden, and the rest came from various others, including one from my personal favorite musician of all time, Eric Clapton. (There IS music worth listening to that is not jazz. Yes, some of it will blow a tight-fitting hat off your head at fifty paces. But some of it will also reduce you to tears, if you are man enough to cry.)
“Wish” opens with a song from the late Ornette Coleman, “Turnaround” from 1959. This is a great opening number; it is lively without being frenetic, and the whole gang is involved from the git-go. Redman takes the opening lead of course, hooking us with the warm, mellow tones of his tenor. Not quite three minutes in, Redman steps back and Metheny takes front and center, followed by Haden. For the final minute everyone joins in and gives this one an actual ending.
Here is Redman and the others performing “Turnaround”:
For those of you who enjoy technical deconstructions, which I make no pretense of being capable of providing, here is someone named Adam Roberts with a deconstruction of Joshua Redman’s performance of “Turnaround” on this album.
“Turnaround” is followed by one of Redman’s songs, “Soul Dance.” This is an interesting song. It opens with a mellow tone, and really never picks up very much but still leaves you feeling as if it were more upbeat than it actually is. Part of that undoubtedly is due to the influence of Higgins drums. Although the mix has him relegated to the background, Higgins presence is still obvious and subliminally effective.
Owing to some non-musical issues that I had to deal with earlier in the day, including facilitating a neighborhood watch meeting at my condos and getting my hair cut by Barber Dan, Portland’s only barber with a Platinum Record (scroll down to “Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Barber), I am rapidly running out of time. Unfortunately, that means I’m going to have to skip over some songs I had hoped to include in this.
Jumping forward, we arrive at a perennial favorite of most red-blooded jazz lovers everywhere, Charlie Parker’s “Moose The Mooche.” Redman’s take on this one (no technical stuff, remember?) is entertaining and will hold your attention to the end.
Here are the guys doing “Moose The Mooche”:
Another leap forward takes us to one of Metheny’s two songs on the disk, “Whittlin’.” The title itself calls to mind an image of a young boy with a jack knife, carefully slicing away at a small piece of wood, hoping to reveal whatever image he hopes is hiding within. The music, I must say, does not do anything to further that vision. What it does do is carry you along on notes that are enjoyable and all-too-soon gone. I have no idea of the provenance of this song, but I do know this: I like it!
Here’s your chance to find out if YOU like “Whittlin'”:
The last song I have time to tell you about is the Charlie Haden composition, “Blues For Pat” which was written for Metheny. Indeed, it was first performed on Metheny’s 1983 album, “Rejoicing,” which he recorded with Haden and Higgins. The version presented here was recorded live at The Village Vanguard in New York before a small but appreciative audience. It is by turns lively and quiet, and I will say it makes the perfect exit piece for an album that possesses those same attributes.
All in all, I have to say that I think you will find “Wish” from Joshua Redman to be a fantastic addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Joshua Redman and his music, here are a few places to check out.
First and foremost, there is Redman’s own web site. Scott Yanow has a nice bio of Redman on the allmusic.com site. And you can keep up with his latest adventures by following him on Facebook and/or Twitter.
Last but not least, here is a thoughtful interview with Redman, conducted by Detroit Free Press staff writer Mark Stryker, on the subject of “Issues That Face Jazz Musicians.”
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
* Old joke: What do you call 500 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean? Answer – A good start.
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