Joshua Redman TrioOne of the highlights of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival was the Joshua Redman Trio (USA). Playing to an enthusiastic audience, predominantly male for some reason, in the acoustic comfort of the Melbourne Recital Centre, the trio played a vibrant extended set that touched every mood, reaching into the sublime.

Son of tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, Redman switched from tenor to soprano sax and back in a concert that opened with The Surrey with a Fringe On Top from Oklahoma, followed by East of the Sun and West of the Moon, made famous by Frank Sinatra, and moved on to Redman’s own compositions. His first, Ghost from his latest album Compass, was a dreamy piece using wild soprano sax and conjuring up a Middle Eastern bazaar before dancing off into a waltz with a lyrical beat from the bass. Whether playing a show tune, jazz standard or original tune, the trio are unfailingly inventive, melodic, passionate and technically brilliant.

Redman plays with virtuoso precision, imagination and an intelligent musicality, and a tone that moves from smooth and warm to raw and bestial. Unlike the festival’s cool publicity shot of him, he is animated, his knees jerking with the bursts of his tenor sax, his whole body mobile and expressive. Neither he nor his fellow musicians – Reuben Rogers on double bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums – stint on physical energy or mental agility. It is an adventurous exchange in musical ideas that, at turns, soothes and invigorates, whispers and roars.

The improvisation is not without humour. Rogers is the first to seem to see the funny side of things, and his strong walking bass, lush chord playing, vibrato and delicate harmonics are interspersed with playful conversations with the drums. Hutchinson is a master of dynamics, using sticks, soft mallets, often brushes and even tambourine for mood and colour, and breaking into explosive solos that can drop right back to a heartbeat. As the evening went on, they seemed to tune into the acoustics of the hall and use them to even greater dramatic effect.

It was in the final number Insomnomaniac, also from Compass, which was launched by a furious trilling from the sax, that the trio was really firing, with Redman and his sax seeming to be one instrument. After the three took a modest bow, they returned to change the mood once more and brought us back to earth with a soothing anthem featuring a breathy alto sax. Lovely.

The support band from Brisbane, who played earlier, was cast in the same vein with the same line-up. Zac Hurren and his trio – Sam Anning on bass and Sam Bates on drums – played an all original wildfire set that constantly switched tempo and dynamics in a powerful performance. Their jazz spirit was rawer, less refined than that of the Joshua Redman Trio, but set up the mood perfectly.

Joshua Redman Trio

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre | Cnr Southbank Boulevard & Sturt Street,
Dates: Thurs 30 April

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