It was Joshua Redman’s quartet, but all four guys on stage Thursday night at the Egg’s Swyer Theater are leaders in their own right, and Redman was right to feature them as much as himself. At every moment, the show belonged to any one of them.
They opened with a fresh and speedy take on the classic “Summertime,” then followed with “Walking Shadows,” another classic and the title track to Redman’s latest release. The latter started as a ballad, then moved into a rowdy jam. While Redman blew out front of the sound, the rhythm section of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Gregory Hutchinson on drums and Ruben Rogers on bass constantly opened and closed doors on one another, forcing Redman to turn on a dime. There was never a clear leader, only the emerging of one or the other, followed by submerging, then emerging again.
Hutchinson was the most visible leader of the rhythm section, one of the best drummers on the circuit. He is quick, frenetic and awesomely controlled, often teasing the momentum with twitchy accents and disrupting tempos. He did this often during Charlie Parker’s “Chi Chi,” which featured the first Rogers solo.
Redman does not have a full lush sound, though he offers it when he wants to. He has a slightly thin, mid-thick tone that allows him to act quickly.
At one point, Redman and Hutchinson traded every four bars, then two bars, then one bar, down to a half-bar with some overlap and wonderfully articulate phrasing.
Redman played two fairly new originals in a row. The first, “Disco Ears,” moved like a melodic smooth rock tune and clocked in as probably the shortest number of the night. “Come What May” was a slow ballad that featured Rogers on a thoughtful bass solo. Goldberg followed with a soft piano solo, skimming over the blues in spots, but more often building puzzles with his right hand while keeping us grounded with his left.
Redman liked to hide in a dark corner of the stage behind Hutchinson when his trio did their thing.
They played a rather short “Let Me Down Easy,” a ballad from his new album. The band laid back for Redman to shine on his solo, and Hutchinson continued to lay low for Goldberg’s following solo, as well.
They played one straight-up swing tune — no tricks, no fancy stuff, just brushes on the snare, a walking bass and smooth solos from Goldberg and Redman. This happened during the encore.
It is difficult to call current, happening players, particularly those still developing, “giants.” While jazz is a tiny portion of our culture compared to, say, 50 years ago, Redman is quietly approaching that grand status in the small world of jazz today, particularly with his current quartet.
Redman mentioned a couple of times how much he liked playing the Egg, which he has done numerous times over the years. He lamented he might never play the larger Hart Theater again, a theater he played in the past. He is such a wonderful player to hear and experience.
Clearly, however, he, and jazz, is not for everyone anymore. Hence, he may be correct — despite his greatness, he may never get to play the Hart again.