Pop Live: Joe Henderson/Joshua Redman/Illinois Jacquet Brecon Jazz Festival

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The Independent Culture
According to the book of Stalinist jazz lore, all tenor saxophonists are descended, like biblical tribes, from one of two roots. If they honk, they stem from the house of Hawkins (Coleman, 1901-69); if they're quiet, or dare to sound pretty, they belong to the school of Young (Lester, 1909- 59). There is no alternative. Happily, Brecon's sizeable contingent of world-class saxophonists refused to play according to the book.

Take Joe Henderson, for instance. A Blue Note Latin hard-hopper 30 years ago, Henderson lay fallow in the fusion years of the Seventies to re-emerge as the most important sax-man of his generation with The State of the Tenor albums in 1985. This performance with his poll-winning Brazilian Double Rainbow Quartet was, therefore, the Brecon equivalent of an audience with the Pope.

On the face of it a descendant of Lester Young, Henderson is the most elegant figure imaginable. Rake-thin, imperious of bearing, sartorially immaculate and owlish in his horn-rimmed glasses, he deigned to take his first solo while still wearing the fetching brown pigskin jacket with which he had taken the stage.

After only a few seconds into his magisterial opening address, the flaws of the Stalinist rule-book were apparent; Henderson honks alright, but his expressive squeaks and tongue-fluttering exclamations are so seamlessly incorporated into the quiet meditations of his customary style they don't let on that they're working for the opposition.

Effects that lesser players would make a meal of are carelessly thrown back into the gene-pool of intelligent ideas that nourishes his playing, which is received by the listener as a kind of perfect prose, common sense expressions made to sparkle through the judicious choice of words and the pauses that separate them.

He played for 10 minutes or so as if he was in prayer, standing still as a statue with eyes closed, as the most moving phrases bubbled out from the bell of his horn, before he ended the solo and raised the instrument high in a hieratic gesture and then retired to a side-table to attend to the rituals of his trade - unfastening the sax from its belt, removing both jacket and spectacles, and then proceeding methodically to mop his face with an tastefully chosen African-patterned cloth, readying himself for the next strenuous bout with his muse.

If Henderson is the consummate modernist, poised, in literary terms, somewhere between late Flaubert and early Joyce, then Joshua Redman, the latest tenor hotshot, is so emphatically po-mo that everything he plays seems to be couched in italics. Indeed, as he squeezed out a dialogue between high-pitched squeaks and floor-trembling bass-tones, his eyebrows formed speech-marks on the blank white page of his face, as the globe of his shaven head pulsed with rivers of rippling, skull-popping veins. Supremely confident, delightfully sexy, and a dream of a player, Redman is another descendant of Lester Young, though he too can honk along with the best.

The appearance of Illinois Jacquet was a blast from the past in every sense. His 64-bar solo on "Flying Home" with the Lionel Hampton band in 1942 rewrote the book of the tenor sax forever, squally harmonic blasts increasing the range of the instrument by two octaves. Now a feisty 73, Jacquet appeared with his own big band, playing swing arrangements with such vigour that the dull classicism popularised by Wynton Marsalis seemed a travesty of the form. Fat horn licks, swelling crescendoes of super- shiny brass, and a rhythm section of sly rocks and rolls made the whole orchestra into a huge corporeal presence, a living, sweating, embodiment of the spirit of jazz.

When Jacquet soloed on "Body and Soul", the tune with which Coleman Hawkins founded his dynasty in 1939, it was, simply, jazz heaven. As tough as the Hawk, but as smoochy and tender as Lester Young too, you could almost hear the sound of jazz Stalinists falling stunned to the ground as he played.

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