The disc has the feel of a homecoming party thrown for Redman by his New York friends...
Matt Trustram 2007
As the name colloquially suggests, Back East represents something of a homecoming for Joshua Redman. The young saxophonist - best known of late as the artistic director of the SF Jazz Collective, arguably the West-coast scene’s flagship ensemble - did in fact cut his jazz teeth in New York, on what was intended to be a gap year before embarking on what looked set to be a glittering career in civil rights law.
The disc has the feel of a homecoming party thrown for Redman by his New York friends, as he takes turns with some of the scene’s hottest rhythm sections, beginning with Ali Jackson and Larry Grenadier and moving through a pantheon of engine-room talent, including Reuben Rogers, Eric Hartland, Christian McBride and Brian Blade. In addition to the whistlestop rhythm section changes, guest soloists drop in frequently. Joe Lovano checks in with a blistering solo on Wayne Shorter’s “Indian Song” showcasing his immaculate control of some of the instrument’s most unreachable registers. Whilst Redman is not his equal as a virtuoso, the interplay between the two is instructive, the younger player following the elder statesman of the instrument throughout, as if taking a masterclass. The hard-panned stereo separation of Redman and his guests won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does emphasise the counterpoint between the two players quite satisfyingly.
In addition to the rotating personnel, the album interleaves standards with Redman originals, and the titles alone hint at another layer to the concept of ‘East’; Coltrane’s “India” is preceded by Redman’s own “Indonesia”, a dizzying distillation of the polyrhythms and timbres of that country’s gamelan tradition. It is clearly this Eastern-ness that is the predominant influence on Redman’s compositions and standard selections. Redman places himself as a citizen of the world; for him, ‘East’ extends far beyond the shoreline of Manhattan.
The disc ends poignantly with the saxophonist duetting on the penultimate track with his late father, the great Dewey Redman, who died in September last year, before stepping aside as Redman senior closes the album with his introspective abstract trio composition, “GJ”. It’s a moving moment which adds yet another dimension to the album’s concern with place and home.