Despite stiff competition, Joshua Redman's latest release is currently gunning for the Number One spot on the Gavin jazz chart. Ever since Warner Bros. debuted Redman at our 1993 Seminar, jazz radio has embraced his music and adopted him as a favorite son.
Spirit of the Moment, his fourth Warners release, is a double-length CD package recorded live at New York's Village Vanguard last March.
Redman handpicked all the songs after pouring through and 14 sets of music looking for the right stuff.
"It was tough," Redman admitted. "Each take of a song had a different thing that made it positive. We may have liked the piano solo on one, two choruses of the sax on another, or the way I played the melody on still another, but the ultimate deciding factor was, 'What are the takes where the band sounds best, both individually and collectively? Which take really captures the mood of the song?'
"My producer, Matt Pierson, and I listened to about 24 hours of music, and I went through it all four or five times. Sometimes it was a toss-up, but it was my final decision and, luckily, I didn't have to toss a coin."
After two years of constant touring, Redman decided it was high time to hit the bandstand and record live. The group, consisting of Redman on saxophone, drummer Brian Blade, and new members pianist Peter Martin and bassist Christopher Thomas, had just returned from a tour of Japan when they took the Vanguard stage.
"I didn't feel ready to record live until the end of 1994," says Redman. "But then, I felt completely comfortable with the integrated sound and the chemistry of the band. We had found a way of tapping into our emotions and communicating honestly and expressively to a live audience. Also, I felt comfortable as a live performer by that point. "
Despite his growing ease onstage, Redman admits feeling a little pressure when they pulled the soundtruck up to the Vanguard, a famous venue where many of Redman's heroes-including John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Dexter Gordon-recorded their own definitive live recordings.
"It was a little bit daunting, but the time was right. I have been touring as a leader with my own band for two years, and [have] developed a live band sound. I felt there was an intensity and adventurousness that hadn't been captured on record yet."
In preparation for the sessions, Josh concentrated on showing up for the gigs with a fresh outlook, focusing on his band and the task ahead.
"I didn't listen to too much classic jazz before recording. I made a point not to listen to my favorite Village Vanguard live records because then it would have ended up becoming a tribute album. Sure, I guess I am paying tribute to the legacy of the club and the great musicians who played there, but I wanted this to be an expression of the band here and now. The title signifies capturing the Spirit of the Moment, capturing the way we play night after night in a raw, unedited form."
In addition to documenting the band and its new repertoire, Redman's other mission was to transport the live experience of playing the Vanguard into listeners' living rooms.
"The idea was to forget about the tape rolling," said Redman. "I went back and listened to everything, and tried to put together two sets worth of material, and sequence the record so that each disc would be a typical set. From beginning to end, you should feel like you're sitting inside the Vanguard listening to both sets."
Spirit of the Moment represents the full spectrum of Redman's latest compositions, plus four standards, and one tune penned by drummer Brian Blade. "Jig-A-Jug," an uplifting bop swing, kicks off the set. Redman ends disc one with a show-stopping rendition of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." With two CDs worth of material to stretch out, Redman and his band even explored free jazz avenues.
"We present a wide variety and make it work, the same way we do in live performance. We include everything from swing, blues to outside, and it all took place over the same week. The only song we redid was 'Dialogue,' the least typical thing to redo," said Redman. "It's probably the most 'outside' song I've ever written. Otherwise, all the other 13 songs are new."
Many jazz fans wonder about Redman's astoundingly mature technique and focused sense of musicianship. Could it be the result of religious enlightenment?
"Music is a spiritual pursuit for me. I've always been skeptical of doctrines-be they political, religious or whatever-but I'm very open to spirituality. Music can be a 100 percent spiritual experience if it's done right, you don't have to be New Age to believe that. Actually, I can prove it to you. The fact is, you can never really describe why a piece of music makes you feel the way it does. There's always this intangible, the essence of the musical experience, which you can never quite put into words. To me, that's proof that music is a force beyond what's rational and intellectual."
If religion doesn't necessarily fuel Redman's fire, is he on a regimented physical conditioning program? Redman laughs.
"I've had my bouts on and off with fitness. Once every few months I start up jogging and working out again, but it's tough to keep a routine going on the road. I gave up eating red meat and chicken about a year and a half ago and that has had a positive effect on me."
How about meditation, something Coltrane, Rollins, and Pharoah Sanders experimented with during their creative high points?
"I'm open to meditation," says Joshua. "But whether I find a certain proven method that works, it's really about learning how to get on the bandstand and not allow all the stress and anxiety built up during the day to form an obstacle between your soul and your instrument. It's a lifelong quest to get in touch with yourself and remove the barriers. It's the most basic-but also the hardest-thing to achieve."
With 24 total hours of live Josh Redman in the vault, that breaks down to 1440 minutes of music. At the current technology of 72 minutes per CD, perhaps by the year 2025, Warner Bros. will release a complete 20-CD box set commemorating 30 years since Josh first recorded live at the Village Vanguard. Sounds good for the future, but in the meantime, let's enjoy the Spirit of the Moment.
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