Joshua Redman, Scott Colley, Satoshi Takeishi, Escher String Quartet
(Patrick Zimmeri's Aspects of Darkness and Light. Wigmore Hall, 24th April 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
The Wigmore Hall's association with Joshua Redman has brought him back to the hall on a number of occasions, each time with a different project. Before he started his own series there, he came over in 2009 the long-standing format of his duo with Brad Mehldau. The 'Joshua Redman Series' at the hall has been running since the end of 2012. I particularly enjoyed a superb duo night with Christian McBride, about a year ago. (reviewed here).
Tonight was a larger project, involving a total of eight people on stage. Redman himself, that most complete of bassists Scott Colley, Japanese percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and the members of the Escher String Quartet.
And the eighth? The American composer - and also saxophonist - Patrick Zimmerli, who directed the ensemble. The group gave what was billed as the World Premiere of a set of pieces or suite by him entitled Aspects of Darkness and Light. A declared aim of this piece on Zimmerli's website doesn't exactly set the bar at a jumpable height: "It aspires to a comprehensive integration of jazz, contemporary classical, and world music genres." To balance things up, he was rather more self-deprecating in his spoken introduction: "We're not sure what it is we're doing here."
The music combines short interludes and vignettes with more complex structures. There was a wide range moods and styles in the quartet writing, from passages reminiscent of Bartok and Janacek in a piece like Through Mist to Copland and Ives Americana in First Light. Two of the interludes had a boldly stated melody on a lower instrument pitted against frenetic high harmonics. Other devices from the string trick-box were smears and scordatura. The Escher Quartet traversed the styles and captured the shifting moods with energy and panache.
I thought that there were two bits of very good news about the evening. The revelation - for me - was percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. Sitting unobtrusively at floor level, he managed to get a sound in the Wigmore Hall which completely balanced with all of the instrumental combinations round him, was always additive, never intrusive or overpowering. His anchoring of time with Scott Colley was an exercise in quiet excellence.
The other good news is that this was probably one of the youngest audiences ever seen at a Wigmore Hall concert.
This group is a context where Joshua Redman has far more reading to do, more instructions to follow, more of other composers' ideas to convey than most of the other formations in which he appears. I have to admit that I find him at his most convincing when he is the master of his own story and can tell it his way. To me, he felt somewhat subdued and hemmed in by the complexity of the music, for example the hyperactive root progression of Fireworks. I also wondered how the group would have sounded with Zimmerli stepping back from the rostrum.
These are minor quibbles, it was a fascinating evening.