Joshua Redman Quartet at Annenberg: Everything you wanted to know about sax (Broad Street Review)

November 12, 2013

By Judy Weightman

For Broad Street Review

The saxophone was invented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian who yearned to create an instrument that would blend the power of brass with the adaptability of woodwinds. It was originally created for use in military bands and adopted with gusto by Philadelphia’s Mummers, but it never entirely caught on in Classical music, though some modern composers (Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Vaughn Williams) have availed themselves of its distinctive timbre.

Not quite in Daddy's footsteps.

Instead, this most modern instrument found its home as the quintessential instrument in the most modern musical genre: jazz. After providing part of the sonic mix in the big band era of the 1930s, saxophonists of the ‘40s led the rebellion against the strictures of swing. From Charlie Parker to John Coltrane to Ornette Coleman to Stan Getz, sax players have been the groundbreakers and genre-shifters.

Joshua Redman was hailed as the next great savior of jazz when he burst on the scene in 1991, the year he graduated from Harvard and also won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. In the 22 years since, he’s performed regularly, both with his own bands and as a sideman for others, including his saxophonist father Dewey Redman.

Orchestras, too

Although Joshua has mostly remained loyal to his first love— bebop— he’s also dabbled with fusion (in a trio called the Elastic Band), and his most recent album, Walking Shadows, featured ballads played by a quartet backed by a full string orchestra.

At the Annenberg Center this month, however, we saw the stripped-down, post-bop Joshua Redman at work. He delivered a tight 90-minute set featuring his virtuosic playing— the man can hit notes you’d swear couldn’t possibly come out of a tenor sax— backed by Aaron Goldberg on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

It was, in some ways, a conventional jazz performance, oxymorons be damned— it was straight bop, the kind of jazz that people who hate jazz hate. It was, however, bop superbly played.

Hipper crowd

Redman excels at Coltrane-style solos, and, although most of the songs were his own compositions, he seemed delighted when the audience recognized a Charlie Parker number. “You’re much hipper than the crowd last night in Boston,” he said happily.

The musicians were fully responsive to each other— Goldberg, for instance, is an excellent pianist who has played with Redman for almost 20 years. He had solos on most numbers that were well worth listening to, and his backing for other soloists— sometimes a full accompanying melodic line, sometimes just a few well-chosen notes— enhanced the overall experience.

After a hootin’ and hollerin’ standing ovation, the quartet played a single encore: an unexpectedly lush version of “Stardust.”