Not surprisingly, Sonny Rollins is an immediate presence on tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman’s Trios Live. The album opens with “Mack the Knife,” which Rollins memorably performed (as “Moritat”) on his signature 1956 recording, Saxophone Colossus. Then there’s the enormous sound, the aggressive, daredevil attack and, on the extended workout “Act Natural,” the obsessive rhythm. All of these elements are on flamboyant display in what is perhaps Redman’s most bravura release. But he’s not Rollins, and he has more tricks up his sleeve.
They’re impressive tricks, too. In the standard “Never Let Me Go,” Redman, accompanied by bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, walks a fine line between delicacy and swagger, even alternating, phrase-to-phrase, between them. When bass and drums drop out halfway through, though, Redman goes delicate with a fragile tone that tiptoes, glides and pirouettes as it slowly regains heft and comes to a resolution with the trio. The maneuver serves as foreshadowing-by-contrast for the originals “Soul Dance” and “Mantra #5,” the disc’s two features for soprano. In both cases Redman applies an inherently delicate tone to sturdy, rhythmic lines; “Mantra #5” (with Matt Penman replacing Rogers here and elsewhere) has the real potency, graduating from an introspective solo to a compulsive dance.
Elsewhere, Redman simply lets his virtuosity shine. On Monk’s “Trinkle, Tinkle,” he tosses off with ease the tangled phrases that even Coltrane struggled with; his solo is punctuated with the audience’s astonished yelps. That’s followed by an even more astonishing feat on Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” where Redman slap-tongues the song’s distinctive ostinato in between fiercely blown phrases, then bursts without warning into the song proper. Trios Live is a bit show-offy, but for God’s sake, who’s complaining?