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The Bad Plus Joshua Redman at Wexner Center for the Arts

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by Richard Sanford on October 13, 2015

I’m on record saying 2015-2016 is one of the most robust seasons for jazz in years at Columbus’ best listening room, the performance space in the Wexner Center for the Arts. If you were at Linda Oh’s Sun Pictures quartet’s meditative, mind-blowing set a couple weeks ago you got a taste of what I meant. The uphill curve of the season’s arc continues when The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (photo by David Jacobs) grace the Wex’s stage for two sets on November 20th, at 7pm and 9pm (tickets available here).  Continue reading for more on these artists and the record they’re promoting plus videos.

For a certain generation of jazz fans, one this writer falls in the middle of, a distinct era is marked by the arrival on the scene of Joshua Redman (along with contemporaries Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel), who started making records in the early 1990s with a nod to tradition and a deference to their heroes but with idiosyncratic tastes and wide aesthetic appetites that set them apart from the peaking/just-waning Young Lions. Redman, almost immediately from his first album in 1993, cast a wide shadow. Nine out of ten young tenor players even 20+ years later still bear the heavy imprint of his playing: his lush and thick tone, his intense rhythmic confidence, the intricacy of his constructions and especially his pure emotional content. I saw Redman with a trio about three years ago at the Village Vanguard, the first time I’d seen him in years, and I was every bit as stunned as when I first heard his records in high school.

Another era in mainstream jazz can be said to be galvanized by the emergence of The Bad Plus – Dave King on drums, Reid Anderson on bass, and Ethan Iverson on piano – nearly a decade later. They seemed to take the lessons of those above-mentioned artists: playing with their heroes but focusing on a core group identity and, partly through a canny updating of the songbook with pop and rock covers given the same harmonic and rhythmic dissection as standards, almost immediately sailed right into the center of the musical conversation. Articles sprung up on them in media that covered one jazz record a year, if that. But instead of wilting in the wake of that sudden adulation, they drew on inner reserves of strength and, again and again, made the records they most wanted to make, building their sound world with little concern for any outside opinion they didn’t respect. I was lucky enough to see them this Spring at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville performing their arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and an encore of their own material that made it abundantly clear how strong their connection still is.

These artists have both made careers out of chipping away, refining their sound worlds. Of getting to and sustaining a level of purity and specificity of thought and intention that only a few artists ever do. These processes intersected this year on their self-titled quartet record, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman. Putting to wax a collaboration first sprung in 2011, this collection is without a doubt one of the finest records I’ve heard this year. On the controlled, sparkling fury of “Silence is the Question,” and the swaggering, catchy “As This Moment Slips Away” (both Reid Anderson compositions), ideas unfold, have every facet examined, and seamlessly melt into something else. On ballads like Redman’s “The Mending,” there’s a sense of gravity and tension. Beyond brimming with ideas – though it is – there’s a sense of ease, maybe even jubilation, in this recorded meeting; nothing’s sloppy but everything shines with trust for one another, knowing you can throw as high as you think you can go because someone’s right there in the moment with you to return the pitch. Throughout, the quartet feels like a band, no one tacked on, no one a sideman. Seeing this live promises to be something we’ll be talking about for a while.

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