In the liner notes of his 1993 self-titled release, Joshua Redman addresses two camps of jazz — the traditional and the avant-garde, the former being steeped in knowledge of one's history and a pedagogy of memorization through repetition, while the latter (the camp his father, the famous free-jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman, along with his peer Ornette Coleman tend to represent) dedicates itself to pushing the boundaries of the form and breaking the rules. Judging by the set list and performance on Wednesday night at Yoshi's in Oakland, the Berkeley native has ensconced himself in both. During his eighty-plus-minute set, Redman jumped back and forth between original work and jazz standards from the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Thelonious Monk, and Wayne Shorter.
Redman opened with Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," displaying his control and chops with ease and, indeed, having a little fun before diving into murkier waters. If the first song served as a starting block, the second was the pistol, an original composition from Compass, Redman's latest release. "Insomnomaniac" begins like a frenzied (and futile) race toward sleep. Midway through the number, Redman set his saxophone down and wiped the sweat from his brow while the bassist, Matt Penman, performed one of his many solos throughout the night. Redman moaned his approval, reminiscent of Monk keeping time at the piano, and looked out at the audience as if to ask, "Did you hear what this guy just did?" When Redman picked up the baton again, Gregory Hutchinson's drums slowed the rhythm down, and the band trotted across the finish line with the strength and force of a pack of elephants. The first two songs set the pace for the rest of the night.
The highlights of the evening came when the band wore the mantle of the avant-garde. In these moments, Hutchinson's drums became smoking cauldrons, his sticks wands. His shoulder-shrugging, moaning, and grimacing were the incantations of a mystic. Redman was in happy communion with Penman and Hutchinson, chipping away at the distance between the band onstage and the audience below them. When the group's set came to a close with the final notes of "Hide and Seek," the audience had certainly caught up with the band and asked them for an encore. They returned to perform "Little Ditty," another original from Compass. Its simple opening, like the title, catches the listener off guard. The ensemble explored complex emotions that were anything but little. These were the moments when the music did exactly what it should: It enchanted the audience with its direct, pre-linguistic communication of the soul.
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