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Finding His Voice

Joshua Redman remembers the bop past while carving out his own musical direction

By Nicky Baxter

The Village Vanguard, New York City's premier improvisational-music venue, has played host to an incredible array of talent. Everyone from Thelonious Monk and saxophone saint John Coltrane to mainstream vocalists Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald have graced the Vanguard stage.

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Joshua Redman is keenly aware of the club's distinguished history, as well he should be, considering that his pops, Dewey Redman, played there a number of times, as part of Ornette Coleman's mid-'60s unit, and as leader of his own group. Recorded earlier this year, Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard (Warner Bros.) sums up the 26-year-old neotraditionalist considerable talents.

The double CD offers heaping doses of middle -period Coltrane soprano sax ruminations ("Second Snow"), Sonny Rollins­inspired workouts ("St. Thomas") and gritty hard-bopping a la Dexter Gordon. Although it would not be inaccurate to say that the Wynton Marsalis school the school of post-bop has influenced Redman's approach, he has still managed to evolve into an artist with something of his own to say. Spirit of the Moment is far from a groundbreaking effort, but it contains more than a few bright moments.

Accompanied by pianist Pat Martin, bassist Christopher Thomas and drummer Brian Blade, Redman demonstrates that he is well on the path to developing one of the music's most distinctive voices. Sure, the instrument's past masters inform the saxophonist's point of departure, but they do not define it.

On the elegiac "Remember," Redman evinces a flair for the dramatic, his leisurely cat-and-mouse interplay with Martin gradually building in intensity until mid-way through, Redman's ululating tenor alternately weeps and shrieks for mercy. Beneath him, Blades slashes away at his kit like a Pentacostal preacher speaking in drums.

Rollins' Caribbean-inclined "St. Thomas" finds Redman exploring tongue-in-cheek the interrelationship between melody and rhythm with a smorgasbord of blips, squeaks and honks not unlike the Art Ensemble of Chicago. When, near the number's conclusion, his associates join in, "Lyric" turns into a festive romp, with some fine solos added for good measure.

If anything, Redman and company crank it up a notch on disc two, commencing with a blistering rendition of Redman's "Herbs and Roots." Here, the Berkeley native demonstrates a commanding grasp of New Thing principles, emphasizing energy, feverish imagination, and bold abandon.

Clocking in at an average of ten minutes or longer, Spirit of the Moment's 14 tunes allow Redman and his bandmates plenty of room to explore and test their own limitations as well as those of the compositions. For Joshua Redman, those limitations are becoming fewer and fewer.

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