Joshua Redman – Freedom In The Groove

Warner Brothers

Original release date: September 24th 1996

Recording dates: April 10th – 13th 1996 at Power Station, NYC

 Joshua Redman – Freedom In The Groove  cover


Joshua Redman (tenor and soprano saxophones), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Peter Martin (piano), Christopher Thomas (bass), Brian Blade (drums)


Hide and Seek, One Shining Soul, Streams of Consciousness, When the Sun Comes Down, Home Fries, Invocation, Dare I Ask, Cat Battles, Pantomime, Can't Dance


'Freedom In The Groove' is one of the most enjoyable, musically aware and creative jazz albums. It has that special feature of all great albums – that outstanding music is made when those supporting the leader are also making great, career defining contributions.

It is also an album that has been very widely misunderstood and as a result undervalued. In his liner notes and in interviews at the time, Joshua Redman was trying to make a point about jazz as he saw it and the musical background in which he was raised. Jazz should not be a specialist interest confined to intellectuals who gather in dingy basement clubs; it should be out there in the world alongside rap and reggae, rock and pop, amongst ordinary people. In saying that, he was saying no more than what Miles Davis had been saying in the last twenty years of his life.

Joshua Redman also referred to the wide range of music that he grew up with as he was raised by his mother and immersed in her eclectic record collection – John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme', The Beatles 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', Aretha Franklin's 'Greatest Hits', Ornette Coleman, Otis Reading, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Indonesian and Sumatran music. This led many commentators to attempt to describe 'Freedom In The Groove' as some kind of fusion of soul and funk and jazz, comments that miss the point. The fact of the matter is that this is as straight ahead a jazz album as Joshua Redman has ever made.

What Joshua Redman was saying was that in jazz he wishes to remain open minded, alive to all possibilities in music from wherever those influences may come. But, in as non-eltist a way as possible, he is dedicated to expressing himself in just the same committed way as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and his father, Dewey Redman, had done before him. Jazz as an open, evolving, living form. Jazz of the kind that allowed Sonny Rollins to introduce Carribbean inflections as in 'St Thomas' or Miles Davis to introduce funk elements as in 'Bitches Brew' or pop as in 'Time After Time'. Despite the unintended consequences of his own commentary, 'Freedom In The Groove' remains very much on the mainstream side of that still evolving tradition.

The 'groove' in 'Freedom In The Groove' is not funk or rap or anything like it but rather a tight, mainly uptempo, lithe jazz with a strong blues underbelly and heapings of rhythmic and melodic innovation. It's an album to be lifted and cheered by.

Joshua Redman was born in February 1969 and raised by his mother, Renee Shedroff, in Berkley, California. His father, Dewey Redman, sax player, a pioneer of the free jazz movement and long-time collaborator with Ornette Coleman, seems to have been remote. It is thus ironic that Joshua Redman is musically largely self-taught, playing guitar from age six and taking up saxophone at age ten. At school, he played with the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble, but it seemed that he was destined for a career in the Law as he graduated from Harvard University in 1991 with an Honours degree in Social Studies and was offered a place for entry that year into Yale Law School.

But he requested and was granted a year's deferment and moved instead to New York to play jazz. In November 1991, he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and began touring and recording as a sideman, working with Lou Donaldson, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Billy Higgins, Milt Jackson, Elvin Jones, Quincy Jones and many of the new generation of players on the scene in the early 'nineties. There were now no thoughts of returning to the Law.

Offered a contract in 1993 with Warner Music, his first two albums ('Joshua Redman' and 'Wish' (with Pat Metheny)) were both Grammy nominated. In the next eight years he produced a string of successful albums for the label; 'Freedom In The Groove' included. In 2000, he moved to San Francisco to become Artistic Director of the SFJAZZ Spring Season, a position he held for seven years, organizing from 2004 the SFJAZZ Collective composer's workshop that featured an annual focus on the work of a jazz great and new compositions from the band. In 2005 he joined Nonesuch Records, producing 'Momentum' (again Grammy-nominated) and then 'Back East' and 'Compass'.

Joshua Redman has written and arranged all of the ten compositions on the album. His playing is exceptional in its range and in its tonal control. His writing has great depth and variety, handling complex musical structures and time signatures with a deceptive ease. When pressed in an interview* on the connectedness of his playing with that of John Coltrane, he pointed to the essential elements that he had derived from listening to 'A Love Supreme' and the rest of the great saxophonist's work:

"I think the thing that always impacted me about A Love Supreme was just the intensity and the force of the music, and the soulfullness of it. I don't mean soulfullness in the sense of a style of music, but just the sheer passion came through, maybe from the first time I heard it. I think that is the case for most people when they hear that record, whether they ever hear another lick of jazz or not. They may not have any understanding of what's happening musically, the incredibly deep and complex musical issues that Coltrane is tackling, but I think the conviction and the intensity and the passion and the sincerity - the honesty - you feel these qualities when you hear this record, and that's what makes it so compelling, it's what makes it one of the greatest jazz albums of all time."

It is not that Joshua Redman is stylistically indebted to John Coltrane but more, as he points out here, that the great man has pointed the way to an intensity and honesty of musical involvement that he is seeking to emulate. As he pointed out when talking in a recent podcast** about 'Wise One' (on the album 'Crescent'):

"There's so much wisdom, tenderness, patience that I hear when I listen to it…..John Coltrane's music is for me what music is supposed to be. Music should be about something more than just music. Music, I think, is an attempt to convey ideas, feelings , actions, through sound. With a music like jazz there is a language and a vocabulary that is very complex…….but underneath all of that is inspiration, passion, emotion and I think the great jazz artists are able to communicate those essential qualities. And no-one does it like John Coltrane."

Joshua Redman: Freedom In The Groove liner picture Photo Credit: Dana Lixemberg

As noted, 'Freedom In The Groove' is based on more than an exceptional performance by its leader. It's not just that each of the musicians is on a personal high but that the balance and understanding between them is so well developed. This understanding of the greatness of the album needs to be extended to include the input of producer Matt Pierson and recording engineer James Furber.

Brad Mehldau's notes to the Peter Bernstein album 'Heart's Content' offer perceptive insight into the guitarist's strengths and approach when he describes hearing him play for the first time:

"His playing was informed by what I can only describe as a profound love for music, in this case specifically the blues, which is so prevalent in Pete's music. It was like he had discovered something beautiful, and he wanted urgently to share it with all of us……. It all translates into what you might call the humanity in Pete's music. I felt like he was telling me something about myself that day and I always feel that way when I hear him."

So, when you hear Peter Bernstein's first clear, crafted, blues–filled playing in the middle passage duet with Joshua Redman on 'One Shining Soul' or on his solos proper on 'Streams Of Consciousness', 'Pantomime' or 'Can't Dance' on this album, that's exactly how it feels. Peter Bernstein has released impressive albums of his own for Criss Cross ('Somethin's Burnin'', ' Signs Of Life', 'Brain Dance', 'Earth Tones', 'Heart's Content') and appeared as a sideman on many Criss Cross dates. He has made a longstanding contribution to the Larry Goldings trio ('Moondog', 'As One', 'Sweet Science') and recorded with Sam Yahell ('In The Blink Of An Eye', 'Searchin'', 'Trio'). He also appeared recently as part of the Blue Note 7.

Brian Blade, more recently to be heard in Wayne Shorter's quartet, is an outstanding presence on drums. It is his acute sense of timing and rhythmic variation that allows so much of this music to come to life. The subtlety with which he drives along 'Dare I Ask?' or 'One Shining Soul', for example, is remarkable. He has recorded with David Binney, Ralph Bowen, Kenny Garrett, Darrell Grant, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Ryan Kisor, Brad Mehldau, Chris Potter, Mark Turner, Joel Weiskopf and Kenny Werner as well as with Wayne Shorter. As leader in his band Fellowship, his music tends towards fusion. He has also recorded and worked with Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and EmmyLou Harris. On his recent album 'Mama Rosa' he sings and plays guitar.

Bassist Chris Thomas has worked extensively with Brian Blade in the Fellowship band; the two met and began working together in 1990 after Brian Blade had moved to New Orleans and Chris Thomas came there to attend New Orleans University and study with Ellis Marsalis.

Pianist Peter Martin attended The Juilliard School in New York, studying with Martin Canin. He moved to New Orleans in 1990 where, in addition to working with Brian Blade and Chris Thomas, he began working with Nicholas Payton and Ellis Marsalis' pupil Victor Goines. After "Freedom In The Groove', he went on to an active solo career (MaxJazz albums 'The Answer', 'Something Unexpected', 'In The P.M.') and also as pianist and arranger to Betty Carter, Dianne Reeves (performing on and arranging Dianne Reeves’ Grammy winning release 'A Little Moonlight' ) and Chris Botti while at the same time continuing in mainstream jazz in collaborations with Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic with Simon Rattle, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and Sydney Symphony. His playing on 'Freedom In The Groove' as the third voice alongside saxophone and guitar is yet another of the outstanding features of the album. The closeness of the Brian Blade/ Chris Thomas/ Peter Martin New Orleans connection goes a long way to explaining the exceptional tightness and rhythmic understanding delivered on the album.

In bringing this talent together, producer Matt Pierson has played a defining role. He has produced a number of Joshua Redman albums in addition to 'Freedom In The Groove' ('Joshua Redman', 'Wish', 'Moodswing', 'Elastic', 'Spirit Of the Moment'). Also of note is his production of Brad Mehldau ('Introducing', 'House On Hill', ' Anything Goes', 'The Art Of Trio' (Vols 1 – 5)) and Mark Turner ('Dharma Days', 'Ballad Session', ' In This World')

As Brad Mehldau has said: “Matt Pierson excels at recognizing what makes a particular musician special. It is not just that he hears when someone is an unusual talent, but he hears why he or she is unique, and comes up with ideas on how to make that person shine. Matt has a direct empathy for musicians and understands how they think, and that empathy is uncommon.”

Recording and mixing is by James Farber, who has worked on a number of John Scofield's albums ('Meant To Be', 'Groove Elation', 'Grace Under Pressure', 'Hand Jive') and has been recording with Joshua Redman for over 15 years (from 'Joshua Redman' in 1993 through 'Yaya3' to 'Compass')

Their impact on 'Freedom In The Groove' is the final piece in the jigsaw of what makes this one of the great jazz albums. For comparison, listen on YouTube to the takes by the same band in Europe in the Summer of 1996 on a track such as 'Hide And Seek'. Joshua Redman is showboating, the rest of the talented band contribute the same musical elements as in the studio but the balance and direction of the music is askew. It is just that balance and direction in the recorded version of the music that is so well captured by the Pierson/Farber team.

All these elements come together - Joshua Redman's gifted playing and writing, the Coltrane-like soulfulness that he conveys; the love of music and deep blues understanding of Peter Bernstein; the outstanding rhythmic and textural subtlety of Brian Blade; the perceptiveness of Peter Martin; the cool vibe of Chris Thomas; the longstanding New Orleans understanding between Brian Blade, Chris Thomas and Peter Martin; the production and recording excellence of Pierson/Farber – to make "Freedom In The Groove" one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.

Star Rating *****

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*JJM interview with Joshua Redman

** The Tranumentary (Podcast) – Episode 14. Available here

Related reviews:

Joshua Redman "Compass"   Joshua Redman "Back East"   Joshua Redman "Momentum"   SFJazz Collective "2"

Peter Bernstein "Monk"   Blue Note 7 "Mosaic"

Sam Yahell "Truth And Beauty"

Kenny Werner "Lawn Chair Society"

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1 comment:

Russell Ball said...

A very nice overview of Redman's 'Freedom In The Groove', lots of history and knowledgeable facts, i just finished listening to the album myself, and wrote about it on my Blog, plus i made a link to your review -