Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Performance for the Ages—Redman and Mehldau

It was a performance for the ages. Or at the very least (considering I don't go to that many shows) it was the best jazz performance I've seen in a long time.

Two men on stage, piano and reeds, exchanging tunes, ideas, emotions.

At one point Mehldau said with a chuckle, "This duo format is great. I can just leave him hangin'."

But Brad and Joshua were together pretty much throughout the evening, weaving a symbiotic fabric. 

Mehldau never wandered for long into the realms of introspective noodling or flashy polyrhythmic showmanship that he often likes to visit. Nor did Redman indulge in the histrionic shrieking that's been the bane of saxophonists since the mid-sixties.

As I write these words I'm reminded of a show I saw at the old Dakota years ago. Tenor David Murray and his rhythm section blew the roof off the place, in a manner of speaking. But I got the impression that they had come to an aesthetic agreement before the show. "Let's make sure that we're NEVER together, never in the same rhythm or key, never even playing the same song."   

Brad and Josh were together in ways that were musically complex yet entirely accessible. They played a few originals from their new album, Nearness; they played classic tunes by Thelonious Monk ("Let's Call This") and Sonny Rollins ("Avenir"). The played several ballads ("The Nearness of You" and another that I recognized but couldn't pin down).

When the show got started the first thing I noticed was the rich, gorgeous sound coming out of the piano—a sound I've never heard on a stereo. The soprano sax was likewise sublime, reminding me once again of one of the many reasons a live show can be so enriching. Redman's soloing was thoughtful, evenly paced, unhurried, and perhaps even a little tame in the first two numbers. The duo began to swing on the Monk tune, and on the next number (a Mehldau original that Redman was reluctant to say the name of) they were entirely up to speed.

We stayed for the second set, though they moved us to a table under the staircase at the other end of the room. This turned out to be a blessing, as we could now see Mehldau's hands and body language, whereas for the first set we could only see the top of his distant head. As I listened to his complex solos, which grew more dramatic and engaging as the evening wore on, I was occasionally reminded of Stravinsky's fragmented contrapuntal intricacies and the pounding finale to a Prokofiev sonata the name of which I've forgotten.

Though I didn't think of it at the time, in retrospect it strikes me that there was something almost Asian about the evening. Two national treasures were plumbing the depths of the jazz tradition, selflessly keeping a world of melodic improvisation aloft over the course of four hours without fuss, nonsense, or bravado, by combining a limited selection of riffs in ways that were now playful, now tender, now fierce or melancholy .

I had downloaded a few songs from Nearness a few days before the show, and I watched a YouTube video the next morning, but none of that material quite approached the rich sound, intense presence, and  mutual concentration and inventiveness of the real thing.

Besides, when you're on the spot, you have no choice but to listen.

No comments: