Three years after his recording debut, the lionization of saxist Joshua Redman has just about reached its conclusion. Having recorded with, among others, his father Dewey (the former sideman with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett), Pat Metheny, and Jimmy Smith; having won awards and polls and acclaim at festivals around the world; having signed a contract (just last month) to wear the clothes of hip designer Donna Karan, what’s left? Well, he might begin by finding a way out of the formulaic cage he’s built for himself. These days Redman–an undeniably gifted musician who can boast a world of technique and quasar-quick artistic instincts–approaches most of his solos in exactly the same way. He starts simply, almost coyly, with a short motif in the lower register; then he expands on that, often in ingenious ways, until he bursts into phase two, a free-swinging section that draws upon the cool competence of Sonny Rollins; this invariably leads to the climactic section, featuring one to three (count ’em) choruses of bluesy sax shouting in the upper register, before a final coda-styled chorus. None of this means that Redman plays badly–his music still contains engaging wit, some imaginative turns, and no end of craft. He has a malleable and expressive tone, and his latest album–a double-disc date recorded live at the Village Vanguard–shows plenty of inventive playfulness, especially in those moments when he departs from form. But most of the music seems to follow the same blueprint, so don’t plan on much in the way of enlightenment: the Taj Mahal is one hell of a building, but if every house on the block looked like it, you’d get tired of that too. Redman has already reached the stage where he can pick and choose his sidemen, and his current pianist, Peter Martin, shows plenty of chops and a fair amount of creativity; meanwhile drummer Brian Blade, the New Orleans native who’s played in Redman’s band for two years now, just gets better and better. Redman shares the stage with his less predictable contemporary, trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-0206 or 525-7793.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Carroll.