Redman Quartet Concert 'A Trip'

Joshua Redman Quartet at Sanders Theater, Sunday Nov. 5

Joshua Redman brought his highly communicative quartet to Sanders Theater on Sunday night, and it was, in his own words, "a trip." Despite the lingering immaturity of his own saxophone style, Redman has put together a solid jazz group which, with the guest appearance of the greatest bass player of our generation, Christian McBride, put the Sanders Theater stage to good use. The packed house reacted enthusiastically to Redman's every move and indeed there were moments in the show when Redman's playing almost lived up to his charisma and popular appeal.

But there were also times in the performance, especially during Redman's solos, when the level of intensity on stage fell way short of the standard set by the energetic Sanders audience. The majority of the first set performed by the quartet consisted of uninspired jams on simple, repetitive tunes composed by Redman. While this was a version of straight-ahead jazz at its most miasmic, Redman proved later in the set that he is still willing to go out on a limb, even at the risk of alienating his huge following. Redman's sincere version of Ornette Coleman's "Una Muy Bonita" was the highlight of the first set, as he plumbed the depths of Ornette's sophisticated composition, trying to build a series of convincing melodic statements on his alto sax. Redman ended the set back on tenor, first recapitulating the irresistably "bright melody of "Una Muy Bonita" and then into a long cadenza that displayed his considerable chops. After the cadenza, however, Redman led his group into another directionless modal jam.

The continuing lack of emotional depth and seriousness in much, but not all, of Redman's playing seems to signify a persistent lack of artistic maturity. He has the skills, but not the overall aesthetic sense to find an appropriate setting for them. One of the most aggravating motifs that continually recurs in Redman's playing in his insistence on rising into the shrill falsetto of his tenor sax at utterly inappropriate times. On a ballad entitled "Never End," Redman seemed to mock any legitimate musical statements he may have made earlier in the piece by turning the tenor sax into a penny whistle. Irony in jazz is a good thing, but Redman's silliness is not the same as the sophisticated wit of a Duke Ellington, whose self-mockery in turn said something worthy of the listener's attention.

In the second set, however, Redman turned up the heat for the Sanders audience. With the support of his excellent rhythm section, Redman's composition, "Lyric," became a tour de force. The long, exotic ballad gradually increased in intensity and tempo until Redman gave the cue for a frenzied modal cycle which provided the framework for his most convincing playing of the evening. Finally, the patented falsetto shrieks had found an appropriate setting. The solo by pianist Peter Martin was one of many mesmerizing offerings by this quintessentially capable sideman.

After "Lyric," Redman invited special guest Christian McBride onto the stage and they played two jaw-dropping duets. McBride's talent is simply beyond description. Einstein was not better at physics and Pele was not better at soccer than McBride is at the bass. This 22-year old, has gone from being a prodigy to being a legend in the space of about two years, and he's still improving. What makes McBride so enjoyable to hear is his combination of ludicrous technical skills with a style that is thoroughly grounded in a traditional jazz feel. On "Ornithology," a challenging Charlie Parker tune. McBride played faster, louder, cleaner and more lyrically than Redman. It is not normal for a bass-player to manhandle a saxophonist playing bebop, but McBride is the Bird of the Bass.

The conclusion of the second set led to a standing ovation from the audience at Sanders Theater, and in the manner of a magnanimous entertainer, Redman obliged by playing a fantastic encore, summoning McBride back on stage to share duties with the quartet's regular bassist, Chris Thomas. The group played a spirited version of the old Basic tune "Second Balcony Jump" (after Redman cautioned the packed upper level of Sanders Theater not to get any ideas) and then the leader let the two bassists have a long dialogue that was the evening's highlight. As they exchanged four-measure, then two-measure phrases, it seemed like McBride was supplying the rhythmic intensity for both bassists. He was like a champion swimmer who breaks the record swimming with one arms while carrying a floundering swimmer in the other. Thomas grew exasperated trying to match McBride's brilliance, and he wittily "gave up" after a particularly difficult flourish, playing four discordant quarter notes and making eyes at the audience. With his typical good humor, McBride first annihilated his competition and then cooperated with Thomas to play a rousing spontaneous duet that brought the encote and the evening to smashing