Live review

MoodSwing Quartet (Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, Brian Blade) at the Barbican (2022 EFG LJF)

Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Brian Blade (MoodSwing Quartet)

(Barbican. 14 November 2022. Live review by Charles Rees)

L-R: Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Brian Blade. Photo credit: Mark Allan/ Serious

Following its postponement in 2020 and 2021, MoodSwing Quartet finally made their much anticipated appearance at the Barbican as part of the 2022 EFG London Jazz Festival. The group, Joshua Redman on saxophones, Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums – began touring in 1993, following-up with an album under Redman’s name entitled MoodSwing in 1994. After a near three-decade hiatus, they officially reformed in 2019 under the name MoodSwing Quartet, going on to release two more albums; RoundAgain and LongGone.

They began the set with a bluesy medium burn entitled “Mischief”. Composed by Redman and originally recorded on MoodSwing, it nicely set the mood to come. Unfortunately, throughout this opener, the drum mics were absurdly quiet (possibly even turned off), and it required a heckle from the audience for this to be resolved. Nevertheless, Redman was particularly gutsy with his altissimo from the get-go (even more so than usual) and provoked quite the reaction from the audience. The issues with sound being experienced by the audience was clearly not affecting the players. 

It felt as though Mehldau took a few tunes to really get into the performance, not that this negatively impacted the early tunes in any way. Certainly he was present by the time his tune “Moe Honk” came around early in the set: From this point, he began taking some of his comping and much of his soloing right to the edge of rhythmic extremity in that brilliant manner he has become known for. This provoked some wonderful reactions, both musically and visually, from Blade, who looked like he was having a blast all the way through.

Moodswing at the Barbican. Photo credit: Mark Allan/ Serious

Blade’s composition “Your Part to Play” was a real standout moment of the performance. This was in no small part thanks to McBride, who switched to a bow for the melody, doubling it with Redman’s tenor and achieving a very powerful orchestration technique seldom explored in small-group jazz ensembles. His remarkable note clarity and intonation has never been in question, but it was certainly highlighted by this move. A McBride composition called “Floppy Diss” also appeared in the set. His tunes tend to have a very distinct characteristic that is best described as swagger; this was no exception.

Redman’s tunes understandably comprised the bulk of the set considering he was the sole composer of the eleven tracks on the group’s debut recording. One such tune, a particularly memorable one that often appears in Redman’s performances, is called “The Oneness of Two in Three”. It was particularly fascinating to observe how each of the players have matured when compared with the original recording. A particular example stands out: In the bridge of this tune on the original recording, Blade plays a bell pattern reminiscent of Elvin Jones, but for this live version 28-years later he played in a much freer, more reactive and less pattern-based manor. He really has cultivated a very individual style and it complemented all the players beautifully.

Despite MoodSwing Quartet’s lengthy hiatus, the reality is that these four musicians have in fact continued touring in various forms and are seemingly as close as family. This certainly came across musically as well as visually in some of the exchanged glances. And yet, again judging from some of those exchanged glances, they seem to find a way to surprise each other in virtually every solo. This stop at the Barbican was the final date on this tour, but, to judge from the crowd they drew in London and the response they received, they will no doubt be back. And, hopefully, soon.

Applause for MoodSwing, Barbican Hall . Photo by Mark Allan/ Serious

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