Beatles, Bach, and balmy strings on Redman’s latest
Sooner or later, and this is only when a jazz artist becomes successful, he or she can put out records and give concerts in massive halls that are of a satisfyingly high standard sufficient to retain their fans and attract new ones, but somehow don’t rattle any cages. They don’t need to, and it’s not like the artist is coasting. It’s just an “at ease with yourself” kind of feeling. Joshua Redman, even when he wasn’t at peace with himself, always had a calmness and clarity about him, and while not an old fashioned player in the ultra young-fogey sense, wasn’t mad keen to be a trailblazing innovator either. Dewey Redman, his late father, was so much more of an avantgardist in his day, although there are many more similarities than differences than you might think. The first big talking point on Walking Shadows is the fact that Brad Mehldau has produced it and plays Boswell to Redman’s Dr Johnson, manicuring every nuance and little touch in this diary of strings-laden discovery. Brad puts his stamp on the record by suggesting ensemble arrangements and pointing Joshua in the direction of Lennon and McCartney. ‘Let it Be’ is as quietly moving as ‘Tears in Heaven’ on Wish, with Mehldau perfect and Redman so very cool on what could have been a cheesefest.
During the European tour of Highway Rider I thought Redman had found a new space for himself both as a performer and in the way he listened to the Britten Sinfonia before he joined in to solo at their London concert in the Barbican. This new record is a slightly snoozy but very upmarket ballads (and Bach) affair, and even with the newer material to bear in mind Redman shows his jazz pedigree best by a very nuanced take on a classic ballad in ‘Lush Life’, a memorable interpretation. It’s not angsty or a memorial but just languorous and that’s Redman’s style. He’s like a good friend having a heart-to-heart throwing in a few jokes to lighten the mood over a few beers. The band is a mix of Brad’s with the ever reliable bassist Larry Grenadier and Brad joined by the distinguished Wayne Shorter Quartet drummer Brian Blade, while both Joshua and Brad provide arrangements as does Patrick Zimmerli whose music Mehldau toured in the UK earlier this year alternating with Mehliana. I think Redman’s James Farm in 2011 was a more adventurous record (and fans took its quality for granted), but Redman has been less daring with these ballads and not just because they’re ballads. But that said it’s a likeable record that has a mellow mood all of its own and at its best is like a conversation you don’t want to end. Stephen Graham
Walking Shadows is released on 7 May
Joshua Redman above