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Dewey Redman: The Struggle Continues

The late, great Dewey Redman, who organically melded a tough Texas tenor sound with a free-bop aesthetic during his fabled tenure with Ornette Coleman, made just this one ECM recording as leader. Originally recorded in 1982 (long out of print and released here for the first time on CD), it features Coleman’s longtime drummer, the singular postbop polyrhythmic timekeeper Ed Blackwell, along with then-up-and-coming New York bassist Mark Helias and the brilliant, if under-recognized, pianist Charles Eubanks. Twenty-five years later, this music sounds as fresh and vibrant, provocative and stimulating as ever.

The opener, “Thren,” sounds like a bonus track from Ornette Plays Tenor. But on “Love Is,” Redman demonstrates his unlimited capacity for delivering ballads with remarkable warmth, lyricism and feeling (qualities not always associated with his edgy recorded legacy, notwithstanding his beautiful 1996 live outing In London, on which he lovingly caresses several jazz standards). By contrast, “Turn Over Baby” is a nasty funk-blues number with Helias playing grooving electric bass, Blackwell laying down wide backbeats like he did back in the day with Ray Charles, Eubanks playing some earthy roadhouse piano and Redman connecting with his walking-the-bar Texas roots.

“Joie de Vivre” is as uplifting as the title would suggest, sounding more aligned with the spirit of Sonny Rollins or Dexter Gordon than the Ornette camp. “Combinations” is a raucous runaway train of cathartic free blowing set to a blazing tempo. Eubanks in particular shines here while Redman responds with some of his most potent stream-of-consciousness playing on the record. And the closer, Charlie Parker’s bop anthem “Dewey Square,” is handled with reverence for the genre and just a pinch of upstart energy by the tune’s namesake. Aside from being an invigorating listen, this long overdue ECM reissue reminds us that Dewey Redman (who died in 2006) was one of the giants of jazz of the past quarter-century. He may not have made Ken Burns’ JAZZ documentary, but for those in the know, his name will remain up there with the all-time greats.

Originally Published