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Redman's Growing Repertoire

*** 1/2 JOSHUA REDMAN "Timeless Tales" Warner Bros.

October 11, 1998|Don Heckman

Concept albums--projects centered on a specific point of view or a related collection of materials--have done well in jazz in recent years. Joe Henderson has benefited from recordings based on the music of Billy Strayhorn and Antonio Carlos Jobim. And Terence Blanchard has done well with, among others, an album devoted to songs associated with Billie Holiday.

So it's not surprising that Redman, in his first outing with a self-produced album, has chosen to do a concept recording based upon a collection of pop songs spanning many decades. Even more significantly, the tenor saxophonist has wisely chosen to emphasize songs from recent pop history. The music of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Lennon & McCartney and Prince--all of which is represented here--has served as the soundtrack to the lives of the boomer generation. And, since boomers continue to be an important record-buying target, it's a smart marketing decision to attempt to lure them to jazz via tunes they know well.

Smart marketing decisions don't always make for good music, but in this case the results are surprisingly impressive. One of the only flaws in Redman's rapidly expanding improvisational skills has centered on a tendency to build most of his solos in similar arcs, climbing an incline of intensity not unlike the crowd-pleasing solos associated with the old Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.

Not so here. Tunes such as Mitchell's "I Had a King," Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin' " and Lennon & McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" tend to resist similarly stylized interpretations. And Redman, as a result, probes aspects of his musical imagination that have not easily been revealed in the past. With pianist Brad Mehldau contributing a series of reflective choruses, drummer Brian Blade once again revealing his extraordinary musicality and bassist Larry Grenadier keeping the rhythm on an even keel, this is an album that bodes well for Redman's future.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).

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