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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Sax Man Obeys Law of Perpetual Motion : Harvard grad Joshua Redman grabbed '91 Monk prize, quit law and dove into music. He hasn't come up for air since.

February 29, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ever since 1991, when a victory at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Competition catapulted him into the limelight, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman has been a man in motion.

Redman, who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University, abandoned a career in law when he won the Monk competition. He has gone from being a major up-and-comer playing nightclubs such as Catalina Bar & Grill to becoming one of jazz's top draws, an acclaimed and inspiring improviser who performs in concert venues, as he will tonight at Cal State Northridge and Friday at El Camino College in Torrance.

Redman has also changed styles, evolving from a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of the modern mainstream to a jazz liberal who embraces pop influences. And his bands have hardly stayed put either.

He's had a few pianists and bassists along the way, and in 1993 he finagled guitar whiz Pat Metheny into touring with him. About a year ago he found, so it seems, a regular group that includes Peter Martin on piano, Chris Thomas on bass and Brian Blade on drums.

All this morphing has done Redman no harm; he was chosen as Rolling Stone Magazine's Jazzman of the Year in 1994 and 1995. His latest release is "Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard" on the Warner Bros. label.

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Now, in yet another move, Redman, 27, has recently added guitarist Peter Bernstein, fattening the quartet into a quintet.

Redman has a ready reason for why he has added another instrument to the mix, and why he chose guitar rather than trumpet--the traditional match for a tenor saxophone. "I have been feeling the need to have another melodic voice, and I chose guitar because I like the sound of it with tenor--playing with Pat reinforced that--and I wanted more resources in terms of constructing rhythmic textures as well," he said in a phone interview from Davis, where he performed Thursday. "Guitar occupies that wonderful gray area between being a front-line instrument and being a rhythm-section instrument."

Bernstein was at the top of Redman's list of available players. "Peter is an incredibly tasteful and sensitive musician who has command of very wide range of jazz vocabulary but is also interested in styles that fall outside of jazz," he said. "He's very open-minded."

He'd better be, because Redman wants to experiment with what he calls "different grooves," which means playing things "that have an identity, such as swing time." These grooves could be anything, from swing to Latin to funk or soul.

"Some of the rhythms are more funk oriented, some are free oriented, some are in odd-time signatures," said Redman. "The challenge will be to improvise with fluidity, and to interact as a band, to take chances with those rhythms the same way we take chances in swing context."

Playing tunes that fall in a funk/soul direction, or a free-form direction, feels quite natural to Redman, who is the son of acclaimed avant-garde tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. The younger Redman listened to both styles of music as well as to mainstream jazz greats like Sonny Rollins, the man he considers his idol.

"Some of my favorite artists of all time are people like Steve Wonder, Aretha Franklin, [the one-time] Prince, and Earth, Wind and Fire," he said. "Theirs is music I feel as close to as I do to jazz in a lot of ways. At the same time, some of the freer players, like Ornette [Coleman] and Keith [Jarrett], I also grew up with their music. To me, freedom isn't a style, it's an attitude."

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Redman said that at Northridge he'll offer some of the newer tunes as well as some of the older ones. In the past year, his performances have earned him both hosannas and critiques, the former for his free-flowing improvisations, the latter for what some say is his tendency to pander to the crowd. He doesn't take the charges lightly.

"People don't have to like what I do," he said. "I respect everyone's opinion. But when someone says that I pander, they're making an assumption of intent without talking to the artist. That's very dangerous territory for anyone, musician or otherwise, to enter. All I can say is that I never pander."

DETAILS

* WHO: Joshua Redman.

* WHEN: 7:30 tonight.

* WHERE: Performing Arts Center, University Student Union, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Enter parking lot "C" off Zelzah Avenue.

* HOW MUCH: $22.

* CALL: For tickets or more information, call (818) 885-2488 or 885-3943.

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