Given how long opening act, The Bad Plus, played for (80 minutes), I suspected that they were actually a co-headliner rather than just an opening act, and they were.
Much has been written about The Bad Plus, both praise and criticism, making them one of the most controversial bands in all of jazz. Many jazz purists are uncomfortable with the band's predilection to cover pop and rock songs, even though they do so in a strong straight-ahead jazz style. They've covered Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Blondie's "Heart of Glass," "The Theme from Chariots of Fire," Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," as well as these two tracks which made it into the set this evening, Rush's "Tom Sawyer," and Tears For Fear's "Everybody Wants To Rule The World."
Drummer Dave King was phenomenal, like TNT with a pair of drum sticks. Even during the quiet songs, he was pumping up and down in his seat, like an animal ready to pounce. Pianist Ethan Iverson was totally adept at playing at any speed, from the ferocious paint-peeler opening number, "Big Eater," to the more solemn moments. Bassist Reid Anderson was lively and the group on track. Iverson was the spokesperson for the band and he addressed the audience utilizing dry wit. Maybe this is how he is or perhaps he's grown a tad cynical over the years given the beatings the band has taken from jazz snobs. Without a doubt, this was a superlative display of straight-ahead jazz virtuosity and I would not hesitate to see them again. Listening to them on CD doesn't quite do them justice. See them live.
The Joshua Redman Trio, rounded out by drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Reuben Rogers, also put on a fantastic show. Redman joked about how he wasn't sure if he played Winnipeg before (he did, about 14 years ago, around the time of the Wish album), and was very friendly and charismatic. During much of his playing, he appeared to be stepping into the air (Giant Steps?), which was obviously a way to help his energy flow. It was also interesting to note how he handled the swinging sax, by coming so perilously close to hitting the microphone, but not quite.
He stumbled onto some of the tunes from the new album, Back East, from a listening session on his iPod when he came across the 1950 Sonny Rollins album Way Out West, "I'm An Old Cowhand," and "Wagon Wheels." While Rollins the innovator of the sax, bass, and drums trio, Redman utilized his own arrangements for these covers, which went over well. The band opened with the first two tracks from the new album, "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," a Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration from the musical Oklahoma! and "East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)," a crackling display of furious bop and a Brooks Bowman standard that has also been recorded by Carlie Parker, Stan Getz, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgeald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Betty Carter and in 1998 by Diana Krall. Also included in the set were "Mantra #5" from the new album and "Oneness of Two (In Three)" from the Moodswing album.
During his first appearance at the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, he was the surprise hit that year. That he and his two sidemen performed brilliantly came as no surprise to me, but I hope that in his next appearance, more than 500 people take in the show. More than just a stellar new generation sax player, Joshua Redman chooses to take chances artistically, and that makes him all the more someone to follow and support.
Venue: The Burton Cummings Theater, Winnipeg, Manitoba