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CD Review

Redman returns to his roots on 'Back East'

Saxophonist Joshua Redman's 'Back East' is a trio album that uses 10 musicians and follows many musical directions. Saxophonist Joshua Redman's "Back East" is a trio album that uses 10 musicians and follows many musical directions. (Michael Wilson)

In the early 1990s, when major record labels revived their flagging interest in jazz, the self-serving logic of industry hype dictated that the new artists in whom they invested be anointed saviors of the genre. Tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman was 24 when he released his two first albums on Warner Brothers in 1993, yet was celebrated as a near second coming of John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins. His career since then has been quiet only relative to the brouhaha made about him at the outset.

After college at Harvard and several years in New York, Redman found his way back to his native Bay Area, and is now the artistic director of the SFJAZZ Collective. After nine records with Warner he moved to Nonesuch, which put out his 2005 effort "Momentum" with the Elastic Band, an electric combo distilling a high-intensity, if sometimes bombastic, groove-based sound.

"Back East," Redman's program of sax-bass-drums trios out today, is in many ways more satisfying. It represents a return to a certain post-bop orthodoxy as well as to New York, where the three rhythm sections it features are based. The title also references the 1957 Rollins album "Way Out West," which supplies two compositions, "I'm An Old Cowhand" and "Wagon Wheels." And on tracks like Coltrane's "India" and Redman's own "Indonesia" and "Mantra #5," the saxman signs an entry into jazz's long-running conversation with Asian rhythms, harmonies, and cultural themes.

It's a lot of creative directions for one album to contain, let alone develop; pairings like the jaunty " The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" that opens the recording, with the spare and hypnotic soprano sax line that anchors "Zarafah," make this something of a tapas plate for jazz omnivores. The fluctuating personnel -- between the three combos and guests, this is a trio album with 10 musicians -- also hampers the record's cohesion.

That said, each piece is a lovely miniature in its own right, and Redman, whose tone is both fleshy and bright, inhabits each setting with respect and ease. He's particularly affecting when he switches to soprano sax, and the soprano duet with Chris Cheek on "Mantra #5" is a standout. The last tracks feature Redman's father, saxman Dewey Redman , who died a few weeks after the session. "India," on which they duet, and the abstract finale "GJ," in which Joshua sits out, honor the father-son connection aptly.

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