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Interview by ARTURO MORA

An icon of the Young Lions generation, and the son of Dewey Redman (another icon, in this case from the free jazz generation), Joshua Redman has again changed the path of his career with a sax, bass and drums trio recording. Back East marks a certain contrast with his previous project, the electric Elastic Band, and shows a different concept from that of the San Francisco Jazz Collective, to which he devoted almost four years.

On November 10th, Arturo Mora had the chance to talk shortly on the phone to Joshua Redman from Budapest (Hungary) while the tenor saxophonist was in the middle of his European tour.

ARTURO MORA: I would like you to talk a bit about your new record Back East. Why a trio record?

JOSHUA REDMAN: Well, why not? [laughs] It’s something that I wanted to do for quite some time, because some of my early experiences learning to play jazz were in that setting, in a trio setting without a pianist. When I was living in Boston hanging out a lot with people from Berklee College of Music and doing Conservatory played a lot of jam sessions and little gigs, often in trio, without pianist. And then when I moved to New York also a lot of the early jam sessions and gigs I did were in that form. And I’ve been a big fan, obviously, of some great saxophone projects that were done, especially Sonny Rollins, he was one of the most important.

So it’s something that I wanted to do for a long time but really didn’t feel that I was ready until now, and sometimes I still don’t think I’m ready [laughs], but it’s a very, very challenging format to play in, without a pianist or without a chordal instrument. You’re really out bare and exposed, and with tremendous focus on concentration and stamina, but it’s also a very liberating context. When things are going right it can be very inspiring, and the music can go in many unexpected directions.

ARTURO MORA: You’ve mentioned Sonny Rollins. In Back East you play two tunes he recorded in Way Out West. Is it right to consider Sonny Rollins, along with John Coltrane, as your biggest influence?

JOSHUA REDMAN: Yes. I’ve been influenced by so many tenor saxophonists: Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, my father Dewey Redman, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Ben Webster, ... The list could go on and on. I hate to figure out just two, but if I have to, yes, they would probably be Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. They are two of the most important and the most influential and I think pretty much every saxophonist who came after them was influenced by both of them in some way.

ARTURO MORA: Some Eastern influences can be heard in “Zarafah”, the third track of the record. May Yusef Lateef have been another influence there?

JOSHUA REDMAN: Well, it’s funny you should mention that, because although I don’t count Yusef Lateef as one of my primary influences, because I haven’t heard a lot of his music, I do remember listening to some early Cannonball Adderley record (when I was very young my mum had a lot of Cannonball Adderley records), and I remember a live one in particular with Yusef Lateef on it. He was an amazingly soulful and creative saxophonist. He obviously embraced Eastern sound, you know he had that record called Eastern Sounds, which I don’t know that well. I wouldn’t say he has a direct influence on the project or on me, but he certainly is an influence.

I think that those Eastern sounds manifest themselves in this project, but they have more to do with my non-jazz influences. When I was very young my mum took me to that place called the Center For World Music, she took me to a lot of African music, Indonesian, Indian music and dance concerts, Middle-Eastern music... so when I was young I was exposed to all of those sounds, and I think, even thought I never study that music and don’t have any formal understanding of it, I think that these influences are obviously there and, for some reason, with this project they came out, and I think that’s probably because there is no harmonic instrument, and Western music, whether you’re talking about classical, jazz, pop, whatever... is so heavily defined by harmony in a Western approach to harmony, you know, very, very logical, mathematical, beautiful, Western harmony is amazing, I love it, but I think in this context without a harmonic instrument there maybe some of those Eastern influences could come through in a more obvious way.

ARTURO MORA: How was the experience of recording with your father shortly before he passed away?

JOSHUA REDMAN: It was an amazing experience to me, irrespective of the fact that it was the last time that we played together, and the last time that we recorded together. It was just a great opportunity to play with him again. I played a lot with him when I first moved to New York and toured and recorded with him, and I was in his band for a couple of years, but we hadn’t played together much over the past ten years, so I was really thrilled and honored that he participated. It was great to play with him again, and of course it took more significance after he passed away, because it was the last time that we played together.

ARTURO MORA: How is the record evolving live?

JOSHUA REDMAN: Well, it’s like everything. The material really changes and really grows as we start to play it live more. I had an opportunity to play most of these tunes live before we got into the studio, but still I’ve been touring pretty heavily since the Spring, since the record came out, and for sure the music changes, we get more comfortable with it, it feels freer and looser. Sometimes I have to be careful because I realize that the more we might play a tune, you know the more familiar we are with it, the more we get away from the core of what I had originally intented. We’re always trying to push us to new ways of expressing ourselves, but I don’t want to lose the emotional core, so that’s always a balance that I have to be aware of.

But one thing that’s been really interesting about this past years is that I’ve toured with many, many different trios, it hasn’t been just one band, and that’s a little unusual for me. In the past it’s been usually one band that I’ve toured with and recorded with in a certain kind, but in this case obviously there are three different trios in the record and I played gigs with all of them and with other combinations of musicians, so that keeps the music fresh, and having different musicians brings unique perspectives to the same material, and keeps things interesting.

ARTURO MORA: What were your criteria to choose the three rhythm sections?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I wanted to play with some of the best musicians in the world, and some of the musicians that I feel the most comfortable and the most inspiring playing with, and I had great musical relationships with all of the different players on the record, and had played quite a lot with them over the years, and each trio, every drums and bass combination had a very unique identity and sound, each group had played together quite a bit, so I knew their sound, and I knew that they would really be great for this project. And I like the idea of having different bands with different identities, different sounds. Every trio has its own feeling and approach.

I thought it would be interesting to have the focus on everything being trio, that is kind of a very minimalist context, but also to have the variety of different perspectives on the same instrumentation.

ARTURO MORA: What differences do you find between these trios and the organ trio you played with in the Elastic project?

JOSHUA REDMAN: There’s a lot of differences. Obviously they’re both trios, but the Elastic Band was much more of an electric project, and it wasn’t just an organ trio, Sam Yahel played synthesizers, and Rhodes, and all sorts of keyboards, and then we added a guitar. That band was more groove-based and used electric as well as acoustic instruments, and had a thicker, louder, bigger sound. There was more harmony and texture and kind of sonic density, and this trio [sax, bass and drums] is very spared, minimal, acoustic, more swing-based, so it’s very different stylistically, formally.

But I have to say that for me the most important thing is not about the style, but the spirit with which the music is played, and even though they’re different projects in a certain way I play the same way, I bring the same creativity and honesty and hopefully intelligence for the music, and there’s a lot of continuity, there are a lot of things that I’ve learned playing with the Elastic Band that I’ve carried over to this trio.

ARTURO MORA: In the last few years you’ve put a great effort on the San Francisco Jazz Collective. Why did you quit eventually?

JOSHUA REDMAN: “Quit” is kind of a strong word. I helped get the band started and was really committed to the band for four years, it was an incredible experience to play with these musicians, it was a very unique project, and it’s a fantastic band, I heard them off the summer with Joe Lovano and Stefon Harris, who replaced myself and Bobby Hutcherson. It’s getting better and better, and it was a honor to be a part of it, but I needed to take a break to focus on some other projects and kind of re-focus on my own band. And that’s a larger ensemble, and it was wonderful to play with and write for that ensemble, but I like the freedom and the challenge of playing with this trio now.

ARTURO MORA: What can we expect from you after the current tour ends?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I’ve written a lot more music for trio, and I would like to do one more album if I can in this context, and there’s a lot of ideas that I have for other projects, but I think once I start doing them I’ll talk about them, but now I’m really just focused on what I’m doing.

Text © 2007
Photographs © Michael Wilson
Acknowledgements: Nonesuch Records