Halfway through his busy, tessellated solo on “Stoic Revolutions,” a tune from his latest album (Beyond, on Warner Brothers), Joshua Redman reaches for a phrase and doesn’t quite get there–so he plays it again, finds the conclusion he wanted, and moves on. Jazz musicians do this kind of thing all the time, but in the context of Redman’s recent history, it’s a remarkable moment. In person and on his last several albums, the tenor saxist has played so formulaically that the simple act of admitting a mistake has the force of a revelation. It makes me want to believe Redman has moved past the gimmicks and antics of recent years, and helps explain why Beyond sounds good enough that when I first heard the disc, I didn’t believe it was his. At its best, Redman’s music comes across as a more lyrical, lighter-toned version of Branford Marsalis’s convoluted extensions. And like Marsalis, he’s artistically important not as an innovator in his own right, but as someone who can stitch the innovations of late-20th-century saxophony–from the flurrying cool of Stan Getz through the boiling glow of Coltrane to the piquant novelty of Wayne Shorter–into a seamless fabric that’s pliable enough to accommodate his own designs. Redman still spends more time skimming the surface of his music than you’d expect from someone deemed a “major young artist,” but Beyond shows signs of serious progress, and at this point, nearly a decade into his heralded career, that’s enough to whet my appetite for his first Chicago appearance in more than two years. Fittingly, Brad Mehldau’s trio will open the bill: Mehldau’s latest disc offers reason to believe that he too has begun to prune and shape his prodigious technique into an individualistic style–which in his case means distancing himself from the sometimes suffocating influence of Keith Jarrett. Hopefully Redman will step out to play a tune or two with his onetime sideman–as far as I can remember, neither of them has communicated more genuine excitement than when they worked in the same quartet. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Ascroft.