Release date: April 24th 2007
The title "Back East" works on a number of levels. Joshua Redman has been working and living in San Francisco (as artistic director of SF Jazz Collective); he's returning to New York. Then, in this music, he is exploring an Eastern musical emphasis, much as John Coltrane had done. But the most informative reference is as a (possibly humorous) reversal of Sonny Rollins' efforts to go "Way Out West" in his 1957 album of that name. Looking now as if he's stepped 17 years early from the set of "Blazing Saddles", Sonny Rollins cuts an unlikely figure on the album cover:
And musical content such as "I'm An Old Cowhand" (written by Johnny Mercer for the 1936 Bing Crosby movie "Rhythm On The Range"), "Wagon Wheels" and "Way Out West" may have seemed unlikely. But Sony Rollins was laying the basis in jazz for the pianoless saxophone trio, something many have said that John Coltrane should have been more involved with. So "Back East" announces this too; Joshua Redman's take on the pianoless trio format.
In fact, "Back East" features three different trios (with backing by Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson; Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland or Christian McBride and Brian Blade) and adds variety by including a second saxophone "guest appearance" on many of the tracks. His father Dewey Redman joins on a version of John Coltrane's "India", Joe Lovano joins on Wayne Shorter's "Indian Song" and Chris Cheek guests on Joshua Redman's own "Mantra No. 5". In a single album then, reference and respect to four of the formative influences on jazz saxophone – Sonny Rollins. John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and his father, Dewey Redman. The album is dedicated to Dewey Redman (who plays alone in the trio on the final track "GT", dedicated to Joshua Redman's son) and is a fitting tribute to this great musician who died in 2006 shortly after this recording was made.
The result is intriguing, open minded jazz, benefiting from the space, simplicity and directness of the saxophone trio format discovered by Sonny Rollins. Where elsewhere there may be stress and strain to somehow show that jazz is still a cutting edge, vital popular music, here the jazz is just almost effortlessly itself and the greater and the more remarkable (and popular) for it.
"Zarafah", "Indonesia" and "Back East" where Joshua Redman features his own compositions without any additional additions to the trio format are probably the stand out tracks in an album filled with memorable music. And yes, the old Bing Crosby vehicle works as well for Joshua Redman as it did for Sonny Rollins. Strongly recommended.
Joshua Redman will be touring with Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland with guest appearances from Joe Lovano.
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