Joshua Redman Quartet, Muhal Richard Abrams | Symphony Center | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Joshua Redman Quartet, Muhal Richard Abrams All Ages Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Fri., Nov. 22 2013

Jazz has a history of using goopy string orchestrations to lend itself an air of respectability and class, since so many people have considered it a bastard form for so long. Some of jazz’s biggest stars, including Charlie Parker and Wynton Marsalis, have given it a go, but the marriage has rarely produced great art. Add saxophonist Joshua Redman to the list, now that he’s enlisted Brad Mehldau, Dan Coleman, and Patrick Zimmerli to write surprisingly bland arrangements for about half the tunes on his most recent album, Walking Shadows (Nonesuch). Redman plays his tenor with measured beauty and lyrical grace on the album’s opener, “The Folks Who Live at Home,” but the effort he made to reunite some old colleagues to support him—pianist Mehldau, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist Larry Grenadier—seems wasted, given that most of their contributions are smothered in orchestral politesse. Even when the strings engage in interesting contrapuntal movement, as on “Lush Life,” it tends to distract from what the jazz quartet is putting down. There are tracks without strings, but it’s hard to be inspired by any version of John Mayer’s snoozy “Stop This Train.” The album’s not bad, but most of it feels unnecessary. Luckily, for this visit Redman leads the working band that’s played behind him on the best of his recent albums: pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Pianist and AACM patriarch Muhal Richard Abrams opens with a rare solo performance. —Peter Margasak

Price: $28-$88

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