Presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, the Joshua Redman Quartet reveals the undeniable genius of Generation X’s most exceptional Jazz Saxophonist
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) November 14, 2019
At the illustrious Royce Hall, presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, the Joshua Redman Quartet and The Bad Plus performed on Sunday, November 10, 2019. Without question, it was a prime example of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance providing Los Angeles with the very best in cultural offerings. Starting with the Joshua Redman Quartet and ending with Joshua Redman doing an encore with The Bad Plus trio after their set, the dynamic sounds of modern jazz filled the night.
A time of celebration happens whenever Joshua Redman comes to town. Arguably the best jazz saxophonist of Generation X, Joshua Redman is the son of legendary saxophonist Dewey Redman. Although he was a musical prodigy, nobody thought he would end up as a professional musician. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Harvard, Joshua Redman was accepted by the ultra-prestigious Yale Law School. It looked like a career in the law, and perhaps later in politics, was going to shape his future.
Still, things don’t always turn out the way they look. Itching to play after four tough years at Harvard College in Cambridge, he chose to defer his admission to Yale. Instead, Joshua Redman moved to Brooklyn to hang out with a bunch of young musicians. Once he dove into the New York Jazz scene, he left Yale and a legal career in his rearview mirror. Joshua Redman began jamming and gigging with many of the leading jazz musicians of the time, leading to a career that has produced over twenty albums.
Early in his career after a few initial successes, he teamed up with pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson to form the Joshua Redman Quartet. They played well together, leading to the releases of two original recordings: Beyond (2000) and Passage of Time (2001). Although Joshua Redman continued to record over the next twenty years, putting out classic album after classic album with many legendary musicians, he never cut another album with the original Quartet. Instead, when they came together, the musicians spent time touring.
Something shifted in 2019 when the Joshua Redman Quartet released Come What May (Nonesuch Records on the Warner Label). The new record allowed Joshua Redman to play again with the close friends that he’s known for over twenty years. The joy of their connection comes across when they perform live together. To begin with, Joshua Redman is a generous and appreciative group leader, allowing each member of the group to explore their potential with accomplished solos. Although he is the centerpiece, they play together like a unified form of expression, feeding off their mutual talent and fostering a joyous sensation of exuberant energy.
From the wildly precise drum solos of Gregory Hutchinson to the soft explorations of bassist Ruben Rogers, the solos ignite the fascination of the audience. Perhaps the most challenging solos are performed by Aaron Goldberg as he pushes the limits to find new depths of expression. Beyond each of these solos, however, the genius of a true virtuoso comes to life when Joshua Redman takes over. Indeed, his tenor saxophone playing covers tremendous zones of territory from an intimate delicacy to a rousing exclamation. At times, sitting back in their seats, the audience feels their breath being taken away as one man’s virtuosity reveals art coming into being. Although the rest of the Quartet is fantastic to behold, Joshua Redman is a transcendent presence.
In a somewhat strange ordering of the night’s events, The Bad Plus followed The Joshua Redman Quartet. An accomplished jazz trio from Minneapolis, Minnesota, the straight forward power of The Bad Plus is undeniable. Consisting of bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Dave King, The Bad Plus are talented musicians, but they still feel like the opening band in this context. Perhaps not wanting to keep an older audience out too late, the main course of the Joshua Redman Quartet was served as an appetizer. After all, in the 21st century, jazz does draw an older crowd. Still, once The Bad Plus began playing, many members of the audience had left, and almost a third ended up departing before the end of their set.
Such departures were a mistake, however, in light of what was to come. After their set, The Bad Plus came out for an encore with Joshua Redman by their side. Hearing tenor saxophonist play with musicians quite different in style from the Joshua Redman Quartet opened up new territory. It’s not surprising that he chose to take this step. In 2015, the tenor saxophonist and the trio came together to release the album, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, too much acclaim. Thus, Joshua Redman loves to take on many different styles of expressive playing. When his back catalogue is examined, the musical worlds explored is beyond impressive.
From the Joshua Redman Quartet to his all-too-brief encore with The Bad Plus, the tenor saxophonist gave his fans a marvelous night out. Once again, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance brought a virtuoso to Los Angeles, providing a place for genius to express itself with a smile. In the end, a standing ovation is the only response that makes sense when Joshua Redman performs. He is an American treasure to be cherished and celebrated for his enduring talents and generous spirit.