Review: Joshua Redman Sensitive, Sublime

Saxophonist's quartet soars while playing to a hometown crowd.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Stepping onto the Yoshi's stage Thursday night, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman closed his eyes and began to blow long round tones. He quickly formed a bond with the audience, and when his sidemen — pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson — fell in behind him, the bond strengthened.

Redman, 31, wailed with inspired delivery on the upbeat opener "Leap of Faith" (RealAudio excerpt), from his current CD Beyond, the modal harmonies accenting the bittersweet edges of his gripping sound. Borderline dissonance dashed and darted between sparse chords, seeking to resolve against the band's contrapuntal harmonic and rhythmic layers.

A rush of applause engulfed Redman, and he thanked the audience with a smile. Then it was the pianist's turn to shine. A linear player with smooth technique, Goldberg seemed intrigued by the challenge of the music, and he met it with elegance and skill.

After the tune Redman greeted the full house, sending props to his "homeboys and homegirls" — he was raised in neighboring Berkeley — and following with a medium-slow rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Visions."

Redman embraced the melody with his full-bodied tone, and the space between the chords allowed for sensitive interplay among the bandmembers.

"Belonging," a medium-up bop tune, came next and Redman jumped out like a millennial Lester Young. The familiarity of the changes and more traditional harmonic structure allowed for the band to stretch as they traded choruses. With a honker's bite the saxophonist bent notes, rocketed into upper registers, pounded his pads and swung like crazy, his body contorting with emotion.

The breathy tones of "Twilight & Beyond" resonated, with Hutchinson's shimmering cymbals creating a nice ambience for ballad setting. As the beats intensified, a spiritual feeling emerged. The Hutchinson-Redman interplay recalled the way John Coltrane and Elvin Jones used to prod each other into a higher musical dimension.

Rogers was left alone in the center to improvise, and he maneuvered his fingers across the ebony neck of his acoustic bass with the facility of a lead guitar player. With bluesy emotion he told his story, and though he was afforded several shorter solo spots throughout the night, his playing on "Twilight & Beyond" was exceptional.

The line on Redman is that he's a great player, but not an innovator. His father, 69-year-old Dewey Redman, with whom he never had a close relationship, was much more of a progressive voice. But on the complex, demanding song "Courage," it was apparent that Joshua Redman was reaching for the musical freedom his father embraced.

Hutchinson dealt percussive bombs during the tune, prodding the quartet to reach an explosive peak, after which the sound resolved softly with fragmented melodic lines spilling over bar lines.

For an encore, Redman played "Question," and he jokingly asked, "When are you gonna go home?" Not until he was finished, that's for sure.

Joshua Redman tour dates:

Aug. 26; Santa Ynez, Calif.; Gainey Vineyards

Sept. 4; Grand Forks, N.D.; Jazz 2000 Festival

Sept. 23; Sedona, Ariz.; Jazz on the Rocks

Jan. 19; Chicago, Ill.; Symphony Center

Jan. 23; Avon, Colo.; Vilar Center for the Arts

March 30–31; Costa Mesa, Calif.; Orange County Performing Arts Center