Curiosity doesn't kill hepcats; it's what makes 'em hep. Slang aside, good musicians are always seeking new sustenance for their fertile minds, exploring and then transmuting it.
So it is with the greats of jazz. And versatile saxophonist Joshua Redman, son of the noted avant-garde sax man Dewey Redman, does them proud with his increasingly personal and probing approach, which is best exemplified on his newest album, the aptly titled Elastic.
On Elastic, his eighth studio release, Harvard-grad Redman teams with keyboardist Sam Yahel and drummer Brian Blade, with additional percussion from Bashiri Johnson, to create an album that springboards from jazz into funk and soul, sometimes effortlessly combining the three forms. Redman's is obviously a gentle spirit that sometimes likes to get a little saucy, but the man can really blow when he wants to. Though subtle in their interplay, the primary performers Redman, Yahel, and Blades throw around some sweet improvisation, honoring the spirit of the compositions while tweaking them melodically and assuming a variety of styles in their respective solos.
Standouts on Elastic include the stuttering, hyper "Jazz Crimes," the Yahel-penned "Oumou," which starts off like a modal Thelonious Monk tune before running off into joyful alto-sax lines, and the bipolar "Still Pushin' That Rock," the longest and strongest Redman composition of the bunch. The latter's spirited blowing is a welcome wind-out in an album full of more soulful, gospel-like tunes such as "Can a Good Thing Last Forever?" and "Unknowing." It's possibly the strongest showing to date from the "accidental" musician, who only took the possibility of a career in jazz seriously when, much to his surprise, he won the 1991 Thelonious Monk jazz competition.
Redman recently took the time to give an interview from Seattle, where he had a gig later that night.
Flyer: Your father [Dewey Redman] is rightfully considered one of the great avant-garde tenor-sax men, especially for his time with the excellent Ornette Coleman Quartet from '67 to '74. But he wasn't around when you were growing up. Yet you, who might have pursued medicine or law, became a tenor-sax man as well. Did your father's absence imbue the life of the jazz musician with some kind of decisive allure?
Redman: A psychoanalyst would have a field day with my subconscious on this one, but I'll try to answer with the way I consciously feel. I grew up with my dad's music, had all his records -- all the recordings with Ornette. But I grew up with all kinds of music and had a love for it, an affinity. My mother is a music lover.
I never seriously considered being a professional musician -- music being the focus of my life -- until I went to New York 10 years ago. Life as a musician was never something that had a great allure. I never thought I was talented. Of course, when I graduated from Harvard, things happened unexpectedly, and I was faced with the opportunity to become a serious musician. But I never thought about pursuing it.
I don't think I picked up the sax because of my father. It was just the instrument. The tenor sax, especially, has such a wide range of emotional expression. It can be strong, powerful, and authoritative yet sweet and tender. It's all in the tone, the texture, the technique.
What musical styles do you see feeding into and shaping jazz toward mid-century? And what do you have to say to those who don't think you're enough of an innovator, even though you employ disjunct rhythm, free improvisation, whiplash changes, et cetera?
Now, jazz is becoming more open, less dogmatic and ideological. Musicians are feeling freer to explore all styles and forms, as opposed to the recent period of traditional conservatism, in which musicians were returning to the classic language of acoustic jazz. Musicians don't need to be as concerned with "stylism" and the specific political associations of a style. It's more free expression, drawing from jazz and outside it.
As far as people saying I'm not an innovator, I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I speak through my music, which, I feel, is becoming more and more my own and more original. But I can't be the judge. I hear musicians losing the soul, trying too hard. All you can do as a musician is find honest ways to express yourself.
Who are your two greatest influences on the sax?
Sonny Rollins is definitely the greatest. It wasn't until I heard Sonny that I understood what jazz improvisation could be: structured yet logical, meaningful yet spontaneous, immediate. It's his vocabulary, his sense of swing, rhythm, and time.
After Sonny comes John Coltrane, who is just a model for creative dedication. He was the ultimate artist in many ways, constantly striving to enhance his sound, never resting, always struggling. Total conviction and passion and intensity.
I hear an increased complexity and lack of derivation in the compositions on your new album, Elastic. Is this just a natural progression or have you been focusing on a new direction while remaining highly melodic?
It's natural. Any evolution has to come from a natural place, otherwise it won't be honest and have deep, lasting meaning. The story lies in the melody. I'm trying to tell a story. The melody is the narrative. The rest is the setting, the details ...
Do you encounter many other Harvard-educated jazz musicians?
More than you would think. I've played with several. ...
Would you like to comment on Elastic?
I'm very happy with and proud of this album. But I'm never satisfied. It leads to complacency. I think I struck a balance on Elastic -- to play the groove under a range of sound and instruments but to play that music without sacrificing spontaneity.
7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Monday, October 21st
The New Daisy Theatre