REVIEW: Joshua Redman's Still Dreaming at the Barbican

Still Dreaming at the Barbican
Photo: Nadworks
Joshua Redman – Still Dreaming
(Barbican Hall, 18 February 2019. Review by Chris Parker)

Sparked by a memorial concert for bassist Charlie Haden, at which Joshua Redman played, this quartet project is inspired by the music of Old and New Dreams, a band of Ornette Coleman alumni formed to perform music in the Coleman acoustic tradition after the great saxophonist/composer went electric. Straightforward re-creations of Old and New Dreams material, however, were never part of Redman’s conception of the band’s approach. Instead, while the spirit of the music made by his father Dewey Redman, trumpeter Don Cherry, Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell infuses all the new quartet’s material, the band has a distinctly contemporary sound, everything they play – whether in-band originals or older material composed by Dewey Redman, Cherry or Coleman himself – coming out new-minted, fresh, original and spontaneous.

The quartet Redman has assembled for this purpose could not have been better chosen. Ron Miles, like Cherry an exponent of the intensely human-sounding cornet, is a perfect front-line foil, his wistful but sure-footed contributions by turns questioning, even eccentric, yet always wholly appropriate; the rhythm section, bassist Scott Colley and the virtuoso drummer Brian Blade, springily propulsive yet subtle and adventurous. Their music, like Coleman’s, is at once complex (some of the ensemble theme statements almost laughably tricksy) and direct in its emotional appeal, somehow contriving to combine the most adventurous, out-on-a-limb playing with a straight-to-the-heart quality more often heard in folk music, or even nursery rhymes. The distinctive blend – a sort of affecting, mewling cry – of the front-line horns to some extent acounts for this effect, but this is undoubtedly a thoroughly democratic outfit in the true Coleman tradition, each player a vital component in the creation of a unique group sound.

Colley and Redman himself provide some of the quartet’s most powerful material, the former’s Haze and Aspirations a particular evening highlight, with its carefully sculpted theme giving rise to a spirited four-way exploration; the latter’s haunting It’s Not the Same sinuous, almost serpentine, yet punchy, immediately accessible. Two Dewey Redman compositions, Walls-Bridges and Rush Hour, plus the odd Cherry piece and an encore blues (Coleman’s Turnaround), round out the 90-minute set, but whatever they play – whether apparent “repertoire music” or originals – this stellar but unfussy quartet triumphantly succeed in performing a supremely difficult feat: firmly rooting their approach in an immediately recognisable tradition, yet producing vigorous, wholly original and compelling music.

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