Joshua Redman ‘Walking Shadows’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

This is a real return to form for saxophonist and leader Joshua Redman. In many ways it is a return to the period of the late 1990s when he was the new kid on the block and this latest recording finds him once again in the stellar company of Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass and Brian Blade on drums as on ‘Timeless tales (for changing times)’ from 1998. Where this album differs, however, is in its use of strings. Jazz and strings is a well trodden path and one not without the odd pitfall in the past. Thankfully, Redman is too astute to fall into any traps and the new recording bears favourable comparison with the historically great jazz plus strings albums from the likes of Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Jimmy Giuffre and Bill Evans. Now in mid-career, Joshua Redman is ideally suited to this kind of project and there is a nice balance of contemporary pieces and classic American songbook standards. A standout track is the interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Infant eyes’ with Redman on soprano and the simmering glow of the strings makes for a wonderful rendition. Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Let it be’ is performed at a significantly slower tempo than the original and this reposing take works extremely well with some lovely chords from Mehldau. Pianist and bassist provide gentle accompaniment on the lush strings surrounding Redman on Kern and Hammerstein’s ‘The folks who live on the hill’ while, in a more austere setting, bass and tenor saxophone combine for a fitting recital of Bach’s ‘Adagio’. Possibly more compositions from the maestro of the baroque are in order in future from Redman. Of the two originals by Redman, ‘Final hour’ features a rolling piano vamp from Mehldau while the leader lays down some genteel tenor and this is played as a duet number. The quartet unite on Redman’s second composition, ‘Let me down easy’ which is quite dark in tone. Mehldau offers one new offering in ‘Last glimpse of Gotham’ which has a theatrical strings intro and some impassioned tenor from Mehldau. A splendid take on the jazz meets strings concept and a recent May duet performance from Christian McBride and Joshua Redman at the Wigmore Hall will have whetted the appetite for a longer UK tour at some stage.

Tim Stenhouse