Walking Shadows, saxophonist Joshua Redman’s new Nonesuch CD, is a real pleasure to hear. The core quartet of Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Brian Blade are abetted by a chamber orchestra, which is given lush and spacious arrangements by Redman, Mehldau, Patrick Zimmerli, and Dan Coleman.
The recording features a number of standards, both old (“Easy Living,” “Lush Life,” and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”), and new (John Mayer’s “Stop that Train”). When interpreting pop in a jazz orchestral context, there’s always the danger of “gilding the lily,” over-adorning the charts or the solos. Of course, it is impossible with tunes by Hammerstein and Kern, or by Lennon and McCartney (“Let it Be”), not to have their iconic stature and myriad interpretations set the bar very high for a new take on an old chestnut. Happily, this is that relatively uncommon recent release that leaves you enjoying what Redman and company have wrought, rather than immediately comparing it to the original.
The originals here, contributed by Redman and Mehldau, don’t pale in comparison to the “hit tunes” either. Mehldau is a known quantity as a persuasive musical creator; his “Last Glimpse of Gotham,” given supple strings and chiming pitched percussion backing, is, from an arranging standpoint, a standout track. It also contains one of Redman’s most potent ballad solos, arcing skyward and plumbing poignantly chromatic passageways in a contemplative cadenza. Redman’s own compositional language has become quite distinctive as well. His “Final Hour,” featuring a limpidly undulating accompaniment from Mehldau and the saxophonist unfurling one seamless legato line after another, is my favorite of his tunes to date. The album closer, Redman’s “Let Me Down Easy,” a ruminative minor key excursion with a haunting melody and impassioned solo playing from both Redman and Mehldau, is a memorable tune that is begging for a vocal rendition.
Final Hour is a compelling addition to the saxophonist’s discography.