ARTS / Show People: Young man with a horn: Joshua Redman

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The Independent Culture
THE TITLE-TRACK of Joshua Redman's new album, Wish, begins with the breath of his tenor saxophone voice curling around the melody as if blowing smoke rings. The sound is thick, grainy and impeccably bluesy, dense with repetitions and expressive vibrato effects. When he finishes his first short statement of the theme, someone in the audience (the track was recorded live at New York's Village Vanguard) lets out a satisfied 'Yeah'. After a guitar break from Pat Metheny, Redman ups the emotional temperature until he is wailing like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, splitting notes into harmonic yowls that lead into a daring glissando to the very bottom of the horn's register. Then comes the grandstand finish, with the kind of bar-walking sax that was once used to accompany strippers. He ends on a wild piece of sustained circular breathing and the tune ebbs away into the whoops of the audience.

That he is only 24 years of age is not surprising - the world is full of brilliant young saxophonists who sound like their elders and betters. But Redman looks and acts very differently to the image of the tough, big-toned tenor. Slight and elegantly dressed in a preppy suit, he is also endearingly modest; at this year's St Lucia Jazz Festival, where he appeared with the pianist Mulgrew Miller, Redman played a succession of exquisite solos before leaving the mike with only a shrug of embarrassment to acknowledge the applause. The son of the tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman - a colleague of Ornette Coleman and part of Keith Jarrett's 1970s quartet - and Renee Shedroff, a dancer, Redman was raised by his mother in Berkeley, California. Music was not his only career option: top of his class at Berkeley High, he moved to Harvard for his BA and was accepted to study law at Yale. Moving to New York for a year off in 1991, he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. As a result, he abandoned his studies to concentrate on music.

In London for his one day off after a month and a half of touring, Redman is tired and full of cold. As the child of a black father and white mother, he came, he says, to black consciousness early: 'Anybody who's black realises they're black; as soon as they become conscious of social interaction they realise there's something about them that makes people treat them differently. I realised that even in Berkeley, which is a liberal town. There was veiled racism there but coming to the East Coast, to Harvard and Boston, where it was unveiled, woke me up.'

While growing up he saw his father at most once a year, but the choice of sidemen for his album - the peerless Metheny, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden - was motivated at least partly by their musical proximity to Dewey Redman. 'My father's music was the most influential thing for me,' he says. 'I wanted to pay tribute to that music without actually having my father on the album, because I have to stand on my own feet.'

Of his own tenor playing, he says: 'I realised that it all starts from your sound. You can be playing the most complex and sophisticated ideas, but if you don't have a warm and humane sound to express them with, they usually mean nothing.' Of Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Dexter Gordon, he says: 'They were able to play with a beautiful melodic simplicity and concentrate on developing motifs and melodies through the power of their sound. The melodic line is the tale that's being told and it should have a narrative quality - you need to have a melody to tell a story.' He is interested in the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, but has little time to read. 'There's no boundary between the public and the private,' he says of life on the road. 'I'm working all the time. I love it but it's hard.'

His well-versed saxophone sound is the most expressive of his generation so far, and a world away from the retro-jazz aesthetic of the Marsalis brothers. 'I wouldn't want to be tooting my own horn,' he says, 'but I've always liked the tenor sax because of its vocal qualities. Because I can't sing very well, it's the closest thing I can have to a voice in music.' Steeped in the jazz tradition, with a satisfying patina of age to his sound, Redman fulfils Roland Barthes' dictum that, in order for a song to move you, there has to be a grain in the voice.

Joshua Redman's 'Wish' is available on WEA from 6 December.

(Photograph omitted)

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