Blue Notes: Joshua Redman's collaboration with The Bad Plus is a good plus

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 June, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 June, 2015, 10:49pm

The summer jazz festival season is under way, and one of its hottest attractions is the newly forged partnership between saxophonist Joshua Redman and The Bad Plus.

The four musicians are touring Europe and North America, playing many of the major festivals - including New York's Blue Note, Montreal, Copenhagen, Montreux, North Sea, Umbria and Marciac - in support of their new album, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman.

It is their first recorded collaboration, but the quartet sound as though they have been a unit for years, and concert reviews have been highly positive.

Redman first worked with The Bad Plus piano trio (which, despite its description, comprises piano, bass and drums) in 2011, when they invited him to join them for a residency at the Blue Note. The experiment went down so well they repeated it and a few warm-up dates were played before the album was recorded.

Saxophonist Dewey Redman's son, Joshua Redman came to the fore in the 1990s after winning the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone competition. He had the advantage of signing his first recording contract with Warner Bros, who were prepared to put some money behind him, and early albums such as his eponymous debut and Wish (both in 1993), along with Moodswing (1994) and a 1995 live set recorded at the Village Vanguard - with Peter Martin on piano, Christopher Thomas on bass and Brian Blade on drums - remain among the most satisfying jazz recordings of the era.

Redman is accustomed to playing with acoustic piano trios, but The Bad Plus have seldom worked with other acts. Their 2008 album, For All I Care, featuring vocalist Wendy Lewis, is a notable exception. Pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King have been together since 2000, although they had worked together before that. Anderson was Iverson's preferred bassist in other groups he led.

Iverson was a notable composer and interpreter of standards until King and Anderson persuaded him that such songs from the rock and pop repertoire as Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, Black Sabbath's Iron Man and Abba's Knowing Me Knowing You were suitable improvisational vehicles.

The trio are also strongly classically influenced and last year they released a radically different version of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. They had previously recorded his Variation d'Apollon on For All I Care, an album that also featured interpretations that might have surprised the composers of songs by Pink Floyd, Yes, The Bee Gees and The Flaming Lips.

They write much of their own material - usually as individuals - and for this nine-track collection they have seven new pieces: two by Redman, one by King, two by Iverson and two by Anderson.

They have also revisited two tracks composed by Anderson for earlier albums and recorded by the trio - Dirty Blonde and Silence is the Question.

The results should please fans of both Redman and The Bad Plus, and anybody who likes jazz to be exploratory, and perhaps a little loud. This is not background music.

"On the live gigs, Josh plays magnificent, long tenor solos, which are very much in the jazz tradition," says Iverson. "That's obviously not the focus when we play as The Bad Plus. It's fun for us to enjoy that extended blowing territory, especially with someone as great as Josh. On the album, however, there is still a focus on composition."

Take Three

A trio of significant albums featuring the musicians on The Bad Plus Joshua Redman.

  • The Minor Passions (1999, Fresh Sound): Miles Davis, Jimmy Yancey and Herbie Nichols are among the influences acknowledged on this fine album by Iverson, featuring Anderson on bass and Billy Hart on drums.
  • Wish (1993, Warner Bros): Redman's sophomore album was made in the heavyweight company of Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, and he sounds completely comfortable.
  • Give (2004, Sony): The Bad Plus hit their stride with their third studio album, which concludes with an ominous Black Sabbath cover, but is otherwise mostly self-composed.