Back in 1991, a 23 year old Redman was on his way towards a law degree at Harvard. However, having decided to tour with his father, well-known saxophonist Dewey Redman, Joshua would soon win the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz saxophone competition, and as a result be offered a recording deal with Warner Bros. Since then he has provided us with such memorable releases as Wish (1993), Mood Swing (1994) and Freedom in the Groove (1996).
Now, following his inspired 1998 set Timeless Tales (for Changing Times), celebrated saxophonist Joshua Redman brings us his seventh album Beyond. In direct contrast to the eclectic mix of covers that characterised the former (Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder etc.), this latest release is comprised of 10 songs composed and arranged by Redman himself. A highly mature and introspective work, Beyond sees Redman attempting to come to grips with life beyond the material world. In recent interviews he has hesitantly described the album as a kind of spiritual quest. However, whilst popular culture may be guilty of using such terms rather loosely such sentiments are perfectly in harmony with the mood of this release.
Indeed, what we are presented with here are a series of musical journeys that invoke a variety of emotions and images by constantly shifting between the abstract and the sublime. On the more experimental side of things, we have the aggressive playing of “Courage (Asymmetric Aria),” the up-tempo “Belonging (Lopsided Lullaby),” the lively “Stoic Revolutions,” and the breathtaking display of virtuosity that characterises the duet with labelmate Mark (Ballad Session) Turner entitled “Leap of Faith.” Equally abstract are “Suspended Emanations” and the undeniably energetic “Last Rites of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” which commences with Redman alternately using his horn as to create Arabian and Aboriginal sounds.
However, in spite of the undoubted appeal of such intense moments I must admit to having somewhat of a penchant for Redman’s more subdued numbers. Consequently, moments such as “Sweet Sorrow” and “Chill” from Mood Swing, and his interpretations of Wonder’s “Visions” and Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean” are among my favourites.
Thus presenting themselves in the shape of the contemplative “A Life?,” the tender “Twilight…and Beyond” and the sweetly embracing “Neverend,” Beyond‘s ballads are nothing less than unforgettable. Ever building towards its rousing finale “Twilight” features some exceptional solo work from Redman, Reuben Rogers (bass) and Aaron Goldberg (piano). Equally noteworthy is Gregory Hutchinson’s brushed percussion. In fact upon the softly soulful “Neverend” Hutchinson’s percussion sounds almost like the sea lapping at a distant shore. Add to this the reflective, almost melancholy, tones of Redman’s horn and this entrancing song begins to invoke images of a heavenly dream space in the manner of Miles Davis’ sublime “Blue in Green.”
In the past Redman has been compared to the likes of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, however, with each successive release this prodigiously gifted artist continues to go from strength to strength with his consistently challenging and experimental sounds. With its superb musicianship, constantly shifting moods and engaging content, Beyond is a jazz release of the highest order. The legal world’s loss was certainly the jazz world’s gain. Make no mistake, Joshua Redman is a legend in the making.