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All That Jazz

Joshua Redman Is Headed Toward a Moment of Grace

The saxophonist readies for a solo performance at Grace Cathedral that launches San Francisco Jazz's spring season.

March 17, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tonight, in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman takes on one of the most difficult challenges a solo instrumentalist can face. Standing alone in the cathedral's transept, he will perform a set of solo improvisations.

A solo tenor saxophone, of course, lacks the chord-producing potential of a piano or a guitar, so "alone" really means alone--one note at a time, with no harmony and no percussion accompaniment.

The cathedral will, however, provide Redman with one distinct asset: a rich and resonant echo that can take seconds to reverberate around the interior of the cavernous structure.

"I'm sort of counting on that sound delay," Redman says. "It can make anyone sound good. But it does have some problems too. It's great for slower tunes, where you can sort of play with the sound, overlap tones and so forth. But it gets trickier with the faster tunes, where it's almost impossible to articulate anything clearly when you're playing fast. So it's quite a challenge. But I'm really looking forward to it."

Redman's performance will be the opening event in SFJAZZ Spring Series 2000, the first program in the San Francisco Jazz Festival's new series of spring programming. He serves as artistic director and artist-in-residence for the series, which continues into June.

Saturday night, a tribute to Wayne Shorter features an all-star saxophone battery consisting of Shorter, Redman, Joe Lovano and Branford Marsalis with the equally impressive rhythm section of Brad Mehldau, Robert Hurst and Greg Hutchinson. The Joe Lovano Group performs another concert Sunday afternoon, and Redman hosts a Jazz on Film event examining the history of the jazz saxophone on Sunday night.

"We did a lot of planning to get this weekend together," Redman says, "and I'm very proud of the way it's worked out."

Given the currently rapid pace of his career, it's a wonder that Redman has found time to even perform in San Francisco, much less participate in the production process. His seventh album, "Beyond," will be released on Warner Bros. on April 4. Working with his regular group--Aaron Goldberg on piano, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Reuben Rogers on bass--Redman has recorded a collection of largely original material, much of it based on themes with unusual time signatures.

In support of the album's release, he appears in Los Angeles for a one-night gig at the Roxy on April 5. It's a booking that appears to reflect his management's desire to connect Redman--who originally burst onto the jazz scene with significant crossover appeal--with a young, pop-oriented audience. But the creatively dense music on Redman's album, which makes no concessions to the pop world, reveals his desire to speak with his own voice, regardless of the arena.

The substantial success he has already had allows him, he feels, to "spend more time with the substance of music and less time with the business of music."

Despite his busy schedule, Redman says, "I've gotten to a place where I feel as though I'm on the way to achieving the right balance between music and life, between a life in the music world and a life outside the music world."

* Information on the SFJAZZ Spring Season 2000: (415) 788-7353 or on the Internet at http://www.sfjazz.org.

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Looking Back: It's hardly surprising that Justin Time Records, the company that released Diana Krall's first album in 1992, has remastered and repackaged it for release. Why not, given the publicity Krall received when her Verve album, "When I Look in Your Eyes" was nominated for a Grammy Award in the prestigious album of the year category. But Justin Time needn't feel embarrassed about riding the coattails of Krall's current success. The album, "Stepping Out," provides a fascinating view of a young artist--still mixing instrumentals with vocals--whose talent and originality are already self-evident. In addition to her original take on "Frim Fram Sauce," Krall offers a sensuous version of "Body and Soul" and spirited renderings of "This Can't Be Love," "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me." She is accompanied, superbly, by the world-class rhythm team of John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. Those who still have the original release should note that this version includes a previously unissued track, "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

* Krall appears with her quartet at UCLA's Royce Hall, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. Info: (310) 825-2101 or http://www.performingarts.ucla.edu.

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Trumpeter Donald Byrd and baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams were among the important members of the Detroit-era musicians who played a vital role in the emergence of hard bop in the mid-'50s. Mosaic Records--the limited-edition, specialty record company--has just released "The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Studio Sessions," four-CD boxed set encompassing the six albums that Byrd and Pepper recorded together between 1958 and 1967.

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