Saturday, May 31, 2008

Another Trip to See "Back East"...and We're Back East Too

COLCHESTER, VERMONT (just a shade northeast of Burlington)--After a dearth of Joshua Redman performances in my neck of the woods in recent years, it was a real treat to hear him in his Back East trio format for the second time in a little over eight months. Last time, it was a free outdoor concert in Ft. Worth with Reuben Rogers on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums (the former played on the record, the latter did not). Tonight, at the Flynn Center in Burlington, it was Hutchinson again, and Larry Grenadier on bass (who played on a few tracks on the CD), and having just one different member made it a completely different show in many ways.

If you read the review of the previous concert, you'll note that it started off with the first three tunes on the CD, in order: "Surrey With the Fringe On Top," "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" and "Zarafah" (the latter dedicated to Redman's mother, whom he noted was having a birthday today; he was happy that she was on California time so that he could call her after the gig). Tonight's show started off exactly the same way, but it wasn't at all like the Ft. Worth show; by that, I don't just mean that the solos were different (of course), but that the tunes were reinvented in many ways. "Surrey" had a completely different coda on it, and it was punctuated in many sections by stop-time that was initiated by some of Redman's trademark leg kicks. "East of the Sun" and "Zarafah" were introduced by long Redman solo passages on tenor and soprano respectively. The presence of Grenadier, who's rapidly becoming one of my favorite modern bassists, added a whole new dimension to the music.

From there, the show veered off in new directions, reaching into Redman's back catalogue for "Soul Dance" (all the way back from 1993's Wish), followed by a return trip to the new CD with "Indonesia." A fine treatment of the ballad "Angel Eyes" would follow (one of the best examples of Redman's jaw-dropping altissimo register was heard on this tune, the highlight of which took place when he took the second "A" section of the head up an octave, pulling it off with precision and sensitivity), and another blast from the past with "Herbs and Roots," a most unusual treatment of C-minor blues. After a wild ovation by a very enthusiastic crowd, the trio returned for the stage for "Hide and Seek," the same encore that was done at the Ft. Worth show. All in all, it was a great start to our week-and-then-some at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

A quick read of the Ft. Worth post will tell that I loved that show...but this one was better. I'd even go out on a limb and say that this was the best Joshua Redman performance I've ever seen (out of seven of them, if I'm counting right). So what was different this time? Sure, artists (especially the greats) continue to grow for the duration of their careers...but tonight far outshined the gig in Ft. Worth. Without a doubt, the acoustics of the Flynn Center (a beautifully-renovated 1930's-era theatre) are better than a big outdoor park (and even in the very back row, our seats were closer in than last time), and we could watch the group interact more closely. Certainly, the presence of Grenadier added an element of excitement, and he seems to thrive in a trio format (think Fly, Brad Mehldau, etc.). And the raucous crowd--who treated the group like rock stars--added to the energy of the night (even if a few of them in our section went a little overboard; I'm talking to you, Loud Young Couple and Weird Dancing Guy).

So rather than trying to over-analyze things, I'll just bask in the glow of a great show and remember that we're just getting started. Paquito D'Rivera is tomorrow night, and that show will be the subject of my next post.

Happy landings: It was a good travel day today; we landed pretty much on time despite a delay in leaving our layover at O'Hare (evidently, eight mysterious bags didn't make it onto the plane until the last minute), and we managed to get through the usual minutiae (baggage claim, rental cars, getting downtown, parking) and arrive at the Flynn Center just in time for the start of Redman's set (yay for an opening act beforehand). A bit of intermittent rain didn't cause too many problems (and brought the temperature down to the 60's), and Church Street was hopping again as we made our way to a post-concert dinner at a favorite local haunt of mine, Ken's Pizza. We're staying in a different hotel this year, a bit north of town, and everything seems nice so far.

We've only been here a few hours, and I already remember why I love Burlington so much. It's going to be a great week...

Another voice: Here's a review of the concert by Burlington Free Press reporter Paul Kaza, who's blogging the entire festival here.

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