Still Dreaming with Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade
When: Nov. 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
Tickets and info: tickets.ubc.ca
On Still Dreaming, saxophonist Joshua Redman leads a spectacular band featuring cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade through eight songs loaded with energetic improvisations and plenty of open-ended elasticity. Six of the songs are band-member originals, the other two are Charlie Haden’s Playing and Ornette Coleman’s beautiful Comme Il Faut.
These two tunes tie in the Still Dreaming project with Old and New Dreams, a quartet that featured Redman’s father, Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, cornetist Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell.
All four heavyweights played as members of Coleman’s free jazz groups. From 1976 to 1987, as Old and New Dreams, the musicians continued to revisit and expand on the music that came from that period. Joshua recalls listening to a lot of this music growing up and admits that this style of jazz remains so alive.
“I didn’t grow up with my father, but I did grow up with his music, whether it was as a leader or in other artist’s bands, and I was fortunate enough to see Old and New Dreams,” said Redman. “But growing up with this sound and a lot of other jazz around me, I’m not sure I understood what made it so ‘out.’ Frankly, some of what my father played in Old and New Dreams and with Ornette to be so incredibly compelling and beautiful.”
But the music being made had an absence of pre-determined harmonic or rhythmic form. Coleman was one of the first to develop these ideas and it led to seminal recordings such as 1959’s The Shape of Jazz to Come and 1960’s Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. These recordings led Miles Davis to declare that Coleman was “all screwed up inside.” But his music also had champions and Joshua Redman thinks the gorgeous melodies in songs such as Comme Il Faut can’t be disputed.
“Everything Ornette played, even at its most abstract, was always asserting the primacy of melody,” said Redman. “There was always this lyrical, melodic quality that he improvised off of to create new melodies, which in turn generated harmonic and rhythmic implications for the band to improvise from.”
As Redman learned to play improvisations and got serious about jazz, the free style wasn’t emphasized as much as mastering the changes in a lyrical and technical context. He says that he never really found himself in that freer headspace until he began playing with the Bad Plus in 2011.
“They don’t sound like Ornette or Old and New Dreams, but that music was a touchstone for them and they play a lot of music that is heavily informed by that approach,” he said. “Playing with them and hitting a point in my own influence and legacy gave me an idea to put this band together and see what we could explore in terms of this kind of music.”
All the members of Still Dreaming are major players. Not one comes from a free-jazz background, favouring that intense, precise and fluid style. They are all very capable improvisers, naturally, but it was the first time Redman had formed a band out of a pre-conceived concept.
“I knew each of them had connections with this music, but more so that they had this direct relationship to the members of Old and New Dreams,” he said. “Ron has a lot of Don Cherry in his sound, in his willingness to bring in other non-traditional textures and techniques to the cornet. Scott was a protege of Charlie Haden, who was one of his first teachers. Brian and I have played a lot together.”
Still Dreaming songs such as Colley’s opener New Year make clear that Redman read the players’ sensitivity to each other right. The eight-measure phrases that Colley and Blade trade down lock in to a fierce fluid swing while Miles’ cornet floats between almost classic bebop lines to pairing with the saxophone for smooth conversation between the two. It’s obvious that this is music made for the live concert stage.
“The outside community is as a very serious, accomplished group of improvisers, which I am most certainly not a card-carrying member of, but I think that if you know the language, you can have a conversation,” he said. “The strength lies in the capacity and willingness of the members to listen to each other. Because when you are playing with an absence of pre-determined form it doesn’t mean there is no form, you just have to arrive at it through improvisation.”
It’s clear that Still Dreaming is providing an outlet to explore alternatives to the other music he has made in his acclaimed career to date. He finds playing wide open without any pre-determined forms gives the quartet all kinds of opportunities to find new ways around the music. It’s a lot of fun.
Also, no member of the original Old and New Dreams is still alive. So for the dream to continue, groups like Still Dreaming are needed.
“We’re certainly not the only ones doing it and I don’t want to imply that because Ornette and these other players’ legacy is now part of the language and essence of jazz,” he said. “But it struck me at Charlie Haden’s memorial that he was the last of those guys to go and then Ornette followed and I guess that made me feel more ready than ever to get more adventurous and soulful as we get more into it.”
On the studio recording the ideas are kept in check by the demands of the delivery medium. Redman says that they went into the studio during a break on tour, and we were at a point where the music live was already becoming really long songs, wide-ranging and open and flowing into another into something new. I had no idea how that would work in the studio, but we decided to do a few versions of everything we played in the set and to try and keep them short.”
With many songs clocking over 14 minutes live, it wasn’t going to work out for a vinyl pressed single album. So the band went in, kept it tight and focused, and wound up with 25 tunes to sift through. Redman says a lot of great moments didn’t make the final cut to arrive at a “40-minute, vinyl length program.”
He recommends coming to see Still Dreaming live to get a taste of the rest.
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