With all the extracurricular glamour that surrounds Joshua Redman, sometimes it's hard to focus on Redman the jazz musician, rather than Redman the ubiquitous, fashion-conscious celebrity. Redman's latest album, Beyond, doesn't depart sonically from his previous works, its compositional zeal suggests he's indeed on his way to living up to all the hype.
While Redman's instrumental formidability has been long established, his compositional ingenuity has always seemed to lag behind. He's a melodious player capable of filling the most vapid material with heartfelt emotion. Like the rest of his post-Motown bop affiliates, he has an affinity for pop music and creates a synthesis best described as populist bop.
Redman creates suspense similar to R&B sensualists Al Green and Marvin Gaye. He knows how to croon a melody through the saxophone. Sometimes Redman extends a phrase slightly over the bar, like on the lulling ballad "Neverend," that brings you to the edge of your seat in anticipation. Other times, he'll simply pace his solos in a conversational delivery then punctuate them with rhapsodic exclamation points, question marks and ellipses as on "Belonging (Lopsided Lullaby)." "Last Rites of Rock 'n' Roll," despite its avant-garde-ish beginning, with Redman droning in a Middle-Eastern-inflected tone that could be mistaken for his more adventurous father, Dewey, is one of the more straightahead bop tunes on Beyond. The sparkling "Courage (Asymmetric Aria)" begins with a melody so simplistic and soothing that it could sell beauty products. But as soon as Redman departs from the billowy melody, he picks up momentum and dives into a full-throttle improvisation that's enlivened by rapid melodic turnarounds and multiphonic shrieks and wails.
So is Beyond beyond category? Hardly. Records like this have been made by a host of jazz luminaries, from Duke Ellington to Pat Metheny. Will this album reach newer audiences? Not on its own, but with the publicity machine choreographing this jazz poster boy's every move it's certainly Grammy-bound. Is that a bad thing? Not exactly, because Beyond contains enough artistic integrity and pop sensibilities to prove that quality stuff can come sometimes in shiny, marketable packages.