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Joshua Redman: Elastic

This CD is being heralded as a new step for Joshua Redman, although the tenor saxophone, organ and drum combo is hardly new to jazz. It’s being marketed as “Redman’s first work with electric instruments,” which after eight acoustic albums amounts to a shrewd repackaging of his talent. And the truth is, it follows on the heels of the self-titled CD by Yaya3, which features the same personnel-Redman with keyboardist Sam Yahel and drummer Brian Blade. The Yaya3 CD came out on Loma Records, once the R&B subsidiary of Warner Bros. (1964-68) and reactivated especially for Redman’s trio, suggesting a certain corporate ambivalence in deciding how to best market the label’s biggest selling jazz artist when he steps out of character-even slightly. Yet Redman has always been a shrewd judge of the music business, and in particular mainstream jazz audiences, balancing imaginative unpredictability and ingenious grandstanding with a charm his fans find endearing.

The concept for Yaya3 and Elastic began when Redman started jamming with Yahel and Blade at New York’s Small’s club in the late 1990s. A thoroughgoing student of jazz, Redman takes on the critics of “electricity” in music with “Jazz Crimes,” and it’s immediately apparent this band can groove. Blade is an exemplary drummer, and in many ways the lynch pin of these infectious, swaggering exercises in jazz populism. All but one song is written by Redman, who has done his homework well-“Boogielastic” and “Still Pushing That Rock” see Yahel reach the heights of the old Blue Note sessions by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Big John Patton and Baby Face Willette. But at the expense of appearing the party pooper, something modern should be something new, since an artist’s legitimating task is to divorce from the past and create in the present. While Elastic is firmly aimed at his constituency of fans worldwide, the more overtly a musician panders to his audience-and this CD does, however delightfully-the more he needs his audience to validate his work. When that audience disappears so does the illusory power of validating consensus. Thus Redman remains more student than trailblazer here, more the eternal protege. But that’s enough, for now-hell, Elastic is a fun disc-and more searching questions about the emotional depth of his work can wait for another day.

Originally Published