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Jazz Review

In 'Passage of Time,' Redman Displays a Deepening Maturity

April 02, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Joshua Redman was scheduled to premiere "Passage of Time," a new extended work for jazz quartet, Sunday night at Spring Season 2001 in San Francisco. But maybe Redman, who is artistic director of the SFJAZZ organization, was having a bit of April Fool's Day fun, since he presented a substantial portion of the work Friday night in the first of four programs at Founders Hall in the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Or perhaps he simply decided to give the work a trial run, prior to its official premiere.

Either way, the intently responsive, full-house crowd in Founders Hall had a welcome opportunity to preview a significant new jazz work.

Whatever the reason, it was amply clear, a few moments into the performance, that the Redman ensemble needed no extra rehearsal time to deliver a superb performance of "Passage of Time." Both the work and the performance underscored Redman's rapidly growing skills as a composer, a leader and an instrumentalist.

He has been, almost since his arrival on the jazz scene, a highly regarded tenor saxophonist, bearing a heavy load of expectations. In the early stages of his career, Redman, who turned 32 on Feb. 1, sometimes appeared to be pushing too hard, cramming everything into every solo, occasionally getting trapped in repetitious patterns, pushing too hard to garner audience attention.

Given the pressures he was facing--he was, far and away, the best-selling jazz instrumentalist, almost from the release of his first album--it wasn't surprising that he often seemed to be struggling to find his creative way.

During the past two or three years, however, his path has become considerably more direct, with Redman more and more delivering on the musical promises that always have been implicit in his talent.

"Passage of Time" represents a further, expanded view of that talent. A multiple-movement work, it calls for a remarkably subtle, even intuitive interplay between composed and improvised passages. Opening and closing with a long, cadenza-like passage from Redman, employing circular breathing and multiphonic sounds interspersed with rapid-fire note passages, it proceeded without a break--a kind of continuous, jazz-driven, instrumental song cycle.

Redman has suggested that some of the most "exciting events are what happen in the gray areas, in the places where we improvise a transition from one segment to the next." And that was certainly true in this performance, especially in passages in which Redman triggered a call-and-response passage with drummer Gregory Hutchinson, or the brief but telling solo connectives rendered by pianist Aaron Goldberg or bassist Reuben Rogers.

Despite the group's symbiotic interaction--possible only in an ensemble that has spent extensive musical time together--the solo spotlight fell for the most part upon Redman. And his playing more than justified its central role. Completely in command of his instrument technically, he has grown into the artistic maturity that allows him to play many notes or few, to balance blindly virtuosic segments with floating moments between sounds and silence.

Those passages offered powerful evidence that Redman can now justifiably be included among the top three or four practitioners of his instrument. Add the imaginative compositional excellence of "Passage of Time" and he has to be considered one of the most vital figures in jazz of the new century.

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