Live review

Joshua Redman Quartet at Théâtre Maisonneuve (2019 MIJF)

Joshua Redman Quartet
(Théâtre Maisonneuve, 2 July  2019. Montreal International Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Awards ceremonies; there are such an awful lot of them, but they do have their uses. They make people reflect on what is important to them and the people around them. Award-winners will often reflect on the passage of time, summarize the big themes in the air. So last year, when André Ménard, co-founder of the Montreal Jazz Festival received the distinction of Compagnon des Arts et des Lettres du Québec, he thought back and tried to define what it was about the spirit of their city that had led him and Alain Simard to create the Montreal Festival. He described “une espèce d’effervescence immanente qu’on ne pouvait pas vraiment définir.” (“A kind of immanent effervescence that couldn’t really be defined.”) How true that is. This is an especially supportive audience, and they proved it again with their warmth of response in the Théâtre Maisonneuve.

Joshua Redman receiving the Miles Davis award from André Ménard (Photo Alexanne Brisson/MIJF)

Last night it was the turn of André Ménard to bestow a gong rather than to receive one, the festival’s Miles Davis Award. The 2019 recipient, joining an illustrious line, was Joshua Redman. “These are all of my major influences and mentors,” he said. It didn’t go completely smoothly, however. First, Redman hadn’t realised that the statuette in bronze would quite such a heavy object (“How am I supposed to take this thing home?!”) And then there was a moment when Ménard started referring to Joshua Redman in his introduction, not once but twice, by his father’s name, Dewey Redman. Ménard himself is the son and the grandson of cautious typographers, and surely if the first of Ménard’s mentions of Dewey Redman was a genuine error in the moment, then the second just had to be a playful jibe. It did certainly bring back a happy reminisence from Joshua Redman himself. He remembered being brought here by his father to Montreal in 1991, before he had fully taken the plunge and decided to make a full-time career in music.

Thus, he explained, Montreal was his first experiece of being on the bill at a proper festival, and an important step in the journey to where he is now, receiving awards, and leading a quartet, re-convened since 2014, which is one of the world’s truly great live bands. Yes, jazz listeners in search of ‘immanent effervescence’ need look no further: this band has that good stuff, and in industrial quantities. Upon reflection, the quartet’s album from earlier this year, Come What May (reviewed here) was just a gentle foretaste of the heights this group would reach in their live show.

As individuals, as people who encourage each other to scale new heights, as a band interacting and responding… OK, there comes a point when writing when one has to admit to being a fan rather than a critic. Reuben Rogers’ bass-playing is so clear and definitive, so emphatic and resonant, and yet it can also be teasing and allusive. There maybe no other drummer who can explode and land as threateningly and with such a lively presence in the sound as drummer Gregory Hutchinson. And I can only marvel at the space and clarity of which Aaron Goldberg is capable. There is a lot going on in his playing, but no texture ever feels either crowded or over-heavy. And if Joshua Redman’s flights of jaw-dropping virtuosity are the kind of thing that instantly bring a Montreal crowd to its feet as if they are in a sports arena, it is never just look-at-me display, there always is a musical purpose.

The set was cleverly constructed too, with rumbunctious and fiery tunes such as Stagger Bear and How We Do contrasted with the repose of Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark. The final encore was Irving Berlin’s Remember, a doff of the hat to the Hank Mobley version, rounding off a completely memorable concert and also tidily capturing the theme of the occasion. 

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