Earning His Spurs

Joshua Redman finds himself in Sonny Rollins's Oklahoma!, OK!

At Town Hall, Redman (Jewish on his mother's side, clean-headed and gangly—picture Vin Diesel without the muscle dysmorphia) saved the best for last: a searching rumination on "Angel Eyes," out of tempo most of the way and with minimal accompaniment. It was an ellipsis where you expected an exclamation point, but no less effective for that. Two other recent releases confirm he's on a roll. As organ combos go, Sam Yahel's Truth and Beauty is unusual, first of all for including an Ornette Coleman tune: "Check Up," a rubato ballad wherein Brian Blade's drums carry the melody. The other departure from convention is no tenor honking—together with the minor-key mysterioso of Yahel's compositions and his light foot on the bass pedal, the swiftness and high-pitched yearning of Redman's solos and duos with the Hammond B-3 lift the record into its own realm.

Redman is also music director and first among equals on the eight-piece SFJazz Collective's Live 2006: 3rd Annual Concert Tour. His native Bay Area's answer to Jazz at Lincoln Center, the collective highlights compositions by a different seminal figure each year—in this case, Herbie Hancock—while also introducing new pieces by Redman and the group's other members. With Miles Davis in the 1960s and on his own Blue Note LPs from around the same time, Hancock was in the vanguard of young musicians figuring out something new to do with Debussy—in "Maiden Voyage," for example, the impressionistic element isn't just in the lapping harmonies but the rhythmic undercurrents. And thanks largely to vibist (and former Hancock associate) Bobby Hutcherson, SFJazz's faithful reinterpretation is an artful exercise in tension and release.

A little less dependable now, and better for it
photo: Michael Wilson
A little less dependable now, and better for it

Details

Joshua Redman
Back East
Nonesuch

Sam Yahel Trio
Truth and Beauty
Origin

SFJazz Collective
Live 2006: 3rd Annual Concert Tour
SFJazz

Unfortunately, Hancock's blues have always had the blands, and there isn't much that arranger Gil Goldstein can do with finger-popping fluff like "And What If I Don't." And except for trumpeter Nicholas Payton's antic, stoptime-happy "Sudoku," a problem with the ambitious originals (including Redman's "Parallelogram") is that they promise more than they deliver, segueing from complexity to cooking with no development between. But this matters not at all on Eric Harland's "Triumph," Matt Penman's "Frosted Evils," and pianist Renee Rosnes's "Mirror Image," when Redman jumps aboard a choice background figure and takes it for a long, twisted ride. Leaving it to an improviser to put the final touches on a composition is the oldest trick in the book, but when the improviser is this on top of his game, damn if it doesn't work every time.

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