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'The Bad Plus Joshua Redman' Equals Awesome

Jason Stillman
Contributing Writer
jasonstillman@gmail.com / @jasonstillman

I was a bit skeptical upon first hearing of The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch). BP members Reid Anderson (bass), Ethan Iverson (piano), and Dave King (drums) have asserted in the past that their trio is a collaborative effort and that each of them strive to contribute equally as players, composers, and artist I wondered how Joshua Redman would change the dynamic of the tightly knit triumvirate who have been playing together for 15 years. When I think of Redman, I picture him as being featured out in front of a rhythm section, not blending within one. He attracts a lot of attention onstage and not only because of his musical prowess. He is an exciting performer who kicks up his knees and bobs up and down and… maybe I am wrong but I seem to remember a performance in Tokyo where he took his shirt off while playing a saxophone solo. The trio rarely invites musicians into their circle of trust and I questioned how Redman would handle the challenge of joining the cohesive, clearly defined unit that is The Bad Plus.

The truth is that Redman is brilliant and handles the challenge just fine. The high level of interplay and sensitivity among the musicians makes the group feel less like a trio + one and more like a single entity with decided direction. Check out "Silence is the Question" where the group sizzles and pops (around the 5:30 mark) before unleashing a ferocity from the depths of hell nearing the end of the piece. Events like these, when all four pistons of the ensemble are firing equally and with perfect timing, represent some of the most exciting moments of the album.

All of the tunes are in line with what listeners have come to expect from The Bad Plus, full of unexpected harmonic and melodic twists, forays into free jazz, as well as odd meter and mixed meter forms that are sometimes just slightly unsettling. However, the added voice of Redman adds another layer of complexity to the compositions, as is evident on the opening track "As This Moment Slips Away" where the tenor melody line floats overtop of shifting supporting figures. Although Redman's ability to blend in with the other musicians is part of what makes this album special, he is also allotted his fair share of shredding time that allows him to unleash his expressive, individual style, as in the extended coda of "Beauty Has it Hard" or on his own composition "Mending".

The success of the collaboration is rooted in the strength of the compositions and the unity among the musicians but perhaps the real appeal of The Bad Plus Joshua Redman is the dynamic that Redman brings to the mix. The contrast between the cool, heady book smarts of Iverson's writing and Redman's more expressive, jazz and rhythm and blues playing style, for instance, is what generates a lot of the excitement and makes this album such an enjoyable experience. And it's just fun listening to Redman devour changes like he does on the opening track "As This Moment Slips Away".

The re-working of previously recorded compositions by Anderson "Dirty Blonde" and "Silence is the Question" will be of special significance to BP fans eager for newer versions. Also worth noting is that the group also plays a new arrangement of "Big Eater" (a favourite of mine from These Are the Vistas) on the video recorded last year at the legendary Detroit Jazz Festival.

The collaboration between members of The Bad Plus and Redman demonstrates that good things happen when interaction, or "conversation", is given priority over individuality. Jazz lives!

TRACK LIST:
1. As This Moment Slips Away (Reid Anderson)
2. Beauty Has it Hard (David King)
3. County Seat (Ethan Iverson)
4. The Mending (Joshua Redman)
5. Dirty Blonde (Reid Anderson)
6. Faith Through Error (Ethan Iverson)
7. Lack the Faith But Not the Wine (Reid Anderson)
8. Friend or Foe (Joshua Redman)
9. Silence is the Question (Reid Anderson)

The Bad Plus Joshua Redman is out now on Nonesuch Records. You can buy it at iTunes, Amazon, and the , amongst other places.

Jason Stillman is a Montreal jazz saxophonist and a Doctoral student in Jazz Performance at the University of Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.