The Wexner Center for the Arts’ stacked Spring 2017 season explodes out of the gate with sax player Joshua Redman’s new project Still Dreaming on Wednesday, March 29th (tickets still available for the 9pm set here). Anyone who saw Redman’s last visit to the Wex, with The Bad Plus, can attest that he’s never coasted and his powerful curiosity, flexibility, and melodic invention have only gotten sharper and his empathy only gotten deeper. This new quartet has been dubbed “stellar” by the Mercury News, and wowed audiences from Detroit’s Jazz Festival to NYC’s Jazz Standard. For more about the Wexner show and videos of Still Dreaming as well as Redman’s other working quartet, read below the jump.
Redman burst to national prominence in the early ’90s with high-profile appearances on records by Elvin Jones, Paul Motian, and Joe Lovano before his first record as a leader released in 1993. Since then he’s shown an immaculate eye for collaborators and released one classic record after another – I’d give a special nod to Back East and Trios Live. Even in the face of his superlative canon, Still Dreaming promises to be special.
Redman’s father, the great tenor player Dewey Redman, got the world’s attention as a collaborator with Ornette Coleman. In the late ’70s, he convened the quartet Old and New Dreams with a reunion of the remainder of Coleman’s classic acoustic quartet (Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell). They put out four records that capture the unvarnished spirit of that soulful but spiky language Coleman gave the world as well as anything had since his own Atlantic years. In writing this, I revisited three of these (the two on Black Saint available on Spotify and the one ECM I still own) and they sound as fresh, mysterious, and deep as they did when a friend first played them for me at 16.
About that band of his father’s, Joshua Redman said to the Boston Globe, “They were able to play very free, and at times abstract, thorny music. But at the same time there was a folk quality — whether a connection to the blues, or with African music, or with very powerful, simple melodies. Their music had a vulnerability and a poignant lyricism. That balance was something very special.”
Still Dreaming was conceived as a tribute to Old and New Dreams with the same instrumentation and a combination of that classic band’s repertoire and new compositions by its members. In that same Globe article, “I’d like to think of it as an inspiring force but not a limiting force,” says Joshua Redman. “Old and New Dreams, Ornette, that whole world of music, that approach is a point of reference and a point of departure.” Bassist Scott Colley also commented to the Globe, “It’s very open in a way, anything can happen; but everyone is thinking very compositionally, always. It’s the ability to truly have a conversation where you’re really immersed in what the other person is saying, and yet have something to say yourself.”
Ron Miles is a trumpet player and cornetist with a sense for throbbing, shocking melody. I first became aware of him through his work with Bill Frisell starting in the mid-90s and his vital piece of that sound-world struck me right between the eyes. He finds a way to draw twangy Americana into the world-music constructions of Don Cherry but never not sounding like his own person. He finds subtlety and nuance in volcanic torrents of notes and his finds the stone-cracking power of the stream in subtle minimalism. Watching the lines he and Redman draw around one another promises to be a highlight for any of us who believe in the power of improvisation.
The rhythm section brings another level of fire to the proceedings. Bassist Scott Colley has been to the Wex in recent years with Julian Lage and Ibrahim Maalouf and held down the melodic rhythm with legends from Jim Hall to Andrew Hill to perennial Wex favorite Chirs Potter. Drummer Brian Blade has the longest relationship with Redman and Miles (his trio record with the latter and Frisell is not to be missed). Probably best known for being the keystone in Wayne Shorter’s current quartet, he also has a knack for song forms, whether providing a keen empathy on records by Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell or his own Fellowship Band.
This is a perfect opportunity to see four of the best players working today playing some of the greatest repertory in American music. Miss it at your peril.