March 4, 2024

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CD review: Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, Brian Blade – LongGone 2022: Video, CD cover

In 1994, the original Joshua Redman Quartet—Redman (saxophone), Brad Mehldau (piano), Christian McBride (bass), and Brian Blade (drums)—released MoodSwing, an instant classic that helped launch each member’s career as a leader.

The members of the quartet reunited for the critically acclaimed album RoundAgain in 2020 and now for a new album, LongGone, featuring original Redman compositions from the RoundAgain recording sessions, plus a live performance of the MoodSwing track “Rejoice,” captured by SFJAZZ at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

This all-star sax-and-rhythm quartet began with Joshua Redman as leader, recording their first album, MoodSwing, in 1994. Twenty-five years later, the group reconvened as an equal-partners band for a second album, RoundAgain, and set up an extensive but ultimately postponed tour as the MoodSwing quartet. That tour is finally back on — the quartet’s EFG London Jazz Festival gig is already sold out — and the band has a new set of songs.

LongGone opens with saxophonist Redman briefly channelling the ballad artistry of John Coltrane on the title track; the urbane, rhythmically focused lines of Redman’s own aesthetic soon arrive. The light melody of “Disco Ears” comes next, played by soprano sax and built over a bustle of Christian McBride double bass. And then the melancholic “Statuesque” is followed by the tempo-shifting “Kite Song”, before “Ship to Shore” delivers a waltz complexity for the album’s penultimate track. It closes with a recent live recording of “Rejoice”, a song from their debut record.

Redman’s songs have clear harmonic shapes, and the saxophonist marks their contours with precise articulations and subtle phonic asides. Bassist McBride and drummer Brian Blade expertly signpost each twist, turn and change of mood while maintaining an impressive dialogue of sturdy bass counterpoints, cymbal pings, press rolls and walking bass lines.

Solos are split evenly between Redman and pianist Brad Mehldau. Both are on song, but a pensive middle dampens the mood. That said, Redman forcefully interrogates the structures he has penned and his unaccompanied introduction to “Kite Song” is masterful. McBride gets a solo; drum and bass subtleties infuse each track; and Mehldau delivers shifting piano harmonies with engaging rhythmic thrust.

The live “Rejoice”, introduced by Redman as “a tune we used to play a lot back in the early ’90s”, ends the set on a high. Fast, bluesy and played with fire, sax and piano swap phrases, the rhythm section cut and thrust and Mehldau takes wing. Hopefully, a live album will come next.

If Long Gone proves nothing else, it is that the rekindling of chemistry between Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade, as represented on 2020’s ‘Round Again, was no fluke.

Indeed, when taken together, these two releases pose the question of whether there has ever been such a reunion of elevated pedigree in the jazz oeuvre: John Coltrane’s come-and-go with Miles Davis’ in the Sixties comes to mind, but this four-way regrouping would appear to be a phenomenon unto itself.

That said, the foursome picks up right where they left off literally and figuratively. This title song radiates a relaxed, summery atmosphere as the musicians work their way into and through the composition, suggesting, more than delineating, the various melodic and rhythmic motifs. Like the foursome of pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson on 2000’s Beyond and the next year’s Passage of Time, Redman has led some outstanding ensembles since this quartet went its separate ways, but these participants’ respective careers, formidable as they are, reaffirm the natural shared instinct for thinking ahead that prevails here.

Far from predictable, though, transitions such as that from Joshua Redman’s initial rendering to Brad Mehldau’s solo on that cut are sublime in their intuitive flow. The warmth of the camaraderie permeates the sonics of these studio recordings, like the previous release, captured over two days at Sear Sound Studio C in New York, by engineer/co-producer (with Redman) James Farber who also mixed prior to the expert mastering of Greg Calbi. There was no coasting on any front in the formulation of Long Gone.

“Disco Ears” is decidedly peppier all around, though hardly redolent of the environs its title suggests or the beat-laden leanings of Redman’s Elastic Band in the mid-2000s. Instead, it is, like “Statuesque,” an unpredictable progression rendered with utter fluency all around, no less in McBride’s basswork or Blade’s drum activity than the lead instruments of their long-standing comrades.

That all six of these compositions are Joshua Redman’s belies the generosity of spirit that pervades this album. Equally notable, however, is the absence of any complacency that might arise with musicians so familiar with each other, but less humble than these. All four seem to comprehend the unique position they are in, refusing to take this opportunity for granted, and thus fully extend themselves in their well-honed capabilities; on “Kite Song,” for instance, none are any less engaged than on one of their own live or studio projects, so the keen desire to connect, instrumentally and otherwise, is unmistakable.

As if to reaffirm the mutual affinity of imagination presented in tracks like “Ship to Shore,” this LP concludes with a near-thirteen-minute live elaboration on ‘Rejoice.” A cull of material from the 1994 album Moodswing recorded by this same quartet, this live rendition is neither an indulgence in nostalgia nor a demonstration of overfamiliarity; instead, Redman, Mehldau, McBride, and Blades authoritatively retrace their steps and, in doing so they not only ratify their unique bond, but also the various directions each man has navigated in the interim. The ever-increasing vigor of the performance becomes wholly and completely celebratory before it concludes.

It’s a fitting capper to the healthy gesture of reconnection that is Long Gone. As with its predecessor, this record is very much akin to the occasion wherein old friends meet up again after a prolonged interval apart and, in very short order, find out that the traits that first brought them together not only remain in plentiful supply but have grown all the more abiding with the passage of time.

1 Long Gone 07:21
2 Disco Ears 06:21
3 Statuesque 08:18
4 Kite Song 06:00
5 Ship to Shore 06:31
6 Rejoice 12:42

Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade - LongGone -  Amazon.com Music

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