In the last couple years, more than a few of us who had high hopes for saxist Joshua Redman have given voice to our disappointment in his increasingly formulaic approach, but I figure that this band has a better chance of kicking him up a few notches than almost any other he's played with. Here Redman, who usually leads a quartet, finds himself in a cooperatively led pianoless trio--a format that has inspired plenty of exciting improvisation in the 40 years since Sonny Rollins popularized it. It matches Redman with two musicians of surpassing talent, each of whom seems more committed to sustained creativity than he does. Bassist Christian McBride is Generation X's answer to Ray Brown: with his pearly tone and his muscled technique sheathed in suave unflappability, he's the kind of musician who can direct an entire band from behind his primarily supportive instrument. Drummer Brian Blade, who arrived in Wynton Marsalis's group and came to prominence in Redman's quartet, has harnessed the visceral energy of his native New Orleans to a slashing style that sets him apart from that city's tradition--Baby Dodds meets Roy Haynes. And despite some bad habits--his tendency to build almost every solo the same way and his pursuit of cheap ovations via nonsensical horn honks and sax shouts--Redman himself still offers attractive phrasing, a well-schooled virtuosity, and a gift for motivic development. Of course, the change of context might well backfire: without a pianist to share the frontline soloing, Redman will have to rely on his imagination more than usual, and could slip into his shtick sooner rather than later. But hey, I'm an optimist. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Joshua Redman photo by Dana Lixenberg/ Christian McBride photo by Michael Grecco/ Brian Blade photo by Michael Varisco.