Dewey Redman: The Struggle Continues (ECM 1225)

 

Dewey Redman
The Struggle Continues

Dewey Redman tenor saxophone
Charles Eubanks piano
Mark Helias double-bass
Ed Blackwell drums
Recorded January 1982 at Columbia Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: David Baker
Produced by Robert Hurwitz

Somewhere along the way, Dewey Redman must have lost an “e” from his last name, for he was a reedman if ever there was one. A self-taught Texas boy, he was already playing with Ornette Coleman by his teens. Still reeling, I imagine, from the two Old and New Dreams joints produced by ECM just a few years before, listeners were sobered by an unforgettable experience with The Struggle Continues—an experience felt afresh when the album was at last reissued on CD in 2007, just one year after Redman’s death.

Those Coleman roots spring right from the soil and grab us in “Thren.” Bookended by a frolic and a march, its fancy footwork from bassist Mark Helias and edgy pianism from Charles Eubanks make sure we aren’t going anywhere. All of this is just a pretext, of course, to get us hooked before Redman presses a saxophonic iron into the wrinkles of “Love Is.” Like a new morning in suburbia, its speaks its promises in voices calm and familiar, the brushed drums moving our worries into the gutter like a street sweeper, the sun peaking over the distant hills and stretching its light to those less fortunate. Eubanks is as rosy as ever in a cut that, as the album’s longest, makes it clear where the band’s heart truly lies. Things get even steamier in “Turn Over Baby.” Raw and curvaceous equation that it is, it fronts smoldering lines above Ed Blackwell’s watery cymbals, further fueled by the passions of “Joie De Vivre.” Legato phrasings on tenor only heighten the punctilious quality of the rhythm section and its inspiring uplift into “Combinations,” the latter a tangled yet pleasing confection with a sweet bass center and drummed sprinkles on top. The not-so-secret ingredient is Redman himself, who samples every course before licking his plate clean in an upright rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Dewey Square.”

As someone so utterly attuned to everything going on, around, and within him, Redman was almost peerless for his time, and seemed only to grow in the context of this one-off combo. “At the top of their game” is not a phrase one need apply to these players, for by the time we encounter this music they’ve already scaled down the other side of the mountain and climbed another. One feels they could have easily extended each of these tunes to an album’s length. As it stands, the final set connects its dots in perfect time.

This is by far one of the swingingest albums in the ECM backlog, and is anything but a struggle. Its fluid, forward-looking, and stichomythic playing is its own history. Produced by the great Bob Hurwitz, then head of ECM’s American operations and now president of Nonesuch, this one will stand the test of age.

Old And New Dreams: Playing (ECM 1205)

 

Old And New Dreams
Playing

Don Cherry trumpet, piano
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone, musette
Charlie Haden bass
Ed Blackwell drums
Recorded live, June 1980, Theater am Kornmarkt, Bregenz (Austria)
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

This fantastic set, recorded live in Austria, is the place to start for anyone wanting a glimpse into the attic of Old And New Dreams. The playing is on point, the crowd riled, and the stakes high. From that first lively jump into “Happy House,” one of three extended Ornette Coleman tunes, we are plunged into the group’s quintessential sonic parameters. Lithe syncopations from Dewey Redman relate to Ed Blackwell’s drumming like family, while the free-flowing trumpeting of Don Cherry loosens its grip on predictability for a style that is utterly devoid of pretense and ever eager to communicate. Charlie Haden’s melodious plasticity completes a formula that carries through to the last drop. Just listen to the gut-wrenching tenor solo in “New Dream,” the liquid horns and percolating toms of “Broken Shadows,” where Redman’s musette also unfurls for a fantastically CODONA-like sound, and tell me there isn’t something special going on here.

Cherry drops a groovy hit of his own with the pointillist “Mopti,” of which the infectious pianism from the composer and attuned percussion delight. Redman contributes “Rushour,” the album’s most incendiary flush. The incredible saxophonism and expansive lyric trumpeting spread their joys far and wide. The title track comes from the hand of Haden, around whose spine horns weave like a medical caduceus before being lobbed back into their familiar station like ping-pong balls at the ready.

Considering the heft of talents assembled here, the results are weightlessly executed. This shows not weakness or lack of fortitude, but the maturity everyone brings to the sonic table. This is a solid date from musicians who know the business inside and out, and then some. About as good as it gets. Reissue, anyone?

Pat Metheny: 80/81 (ECM 1180/81)

 

Pat Metheny
80/81

Pat Metheny guitar
Charlie Haden bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone
Michael Brecker tenor saxophone
Recorded May 26-29, 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With 80/81, Pat Metheny took one step closer to his dream of working with The Prophet of Freedom (a dream he finally achieved with 1985’s Song X), and what better company than Coleman alumni Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman, both fresh off the boat of Keith Jarrett’s newly defunct American Quartet and both welcome additions to the extended Metheny family. Along with the technical mastery of reedman Mike Brecker and drummer Jack DeJohnette, plus a dash of post-bop spice, the result was this still-fresh sonic concoction. The atmospheres of the opening “Two Folk Songs” invite us with that expansive pastoralism so characteristic of Metheny. This makes Brecker’s highly trained yet raw stylings all the more marked, bringing as they do a sense of presence that explodes into a million pieces. Metheny’s benign sound catches at the threshold of perfection with every turn of phrase, allowing Brecker fiery bursts of abandon. DeJohnette throws on a log or two with his rocketing solo, while Haden wipes the slate clean with shadings of his own. Metheny shows off his unparalleled command of two-string harmonies, fading on a lightly skipping snare. This feeling of perpetual motion lingers throughout the title track. Content in sharing the revelry, Metheny relays to Redman who, though he may not fly as high, emits no less intensity in his groove. “The Bat” gives us a minor-keyed shadow of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” before diving headfirst into Coleman’s “Turnaround.” This trio setting boasts inventive melodies and a plunking solo from Haden. “Open” is, suitably enough, the freest track on the album, emboldened by trade-offs between Redman and Brecker, while “Pretty Scattered” dances more lithely with John Abercrombie-like exuberance. A ringing high from Metheny laser-etches this track into our memory. Balladry abounds in “Every Day (I Thank You),” one of his most gorgeous ever committed to disc. This is music that grins even as we grin, and shines through the darkest cloud of a Midwestern storm. Metheny ends alone with “Goin’ Ahead.” This breath-catching piece works its farewell into our hearts with every suspended note, effortlessly walking the beaten path of all those souls who have traveled before, so that those yet to be born might know where they come from, and to where they might return.

Like much of what Metheny produces, 80/81 is wide open in two ways. First in its far-reaching vision, and second it its willingness to embrace the listener. Like a dolly zoom, he enacts an illusion of simultaneous recession and approach, lit like a fuse that leads not to an explosion, but to more fuse.

Old And New Dreams: s/t (ECM 1154)

 

Old And New Dreams

Don Cherry trumpet, piano
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone, musette
Charlie Haden bass
Ed Blackwell drums
Recorded August 1979 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Hot on the heels of Old Friends, New Friends comes Old And New Dreams, an operation meant as a new flagship for Ornette Coleman, whose lack of enthusiasm for the project left a gap duly filled by Dewey Redman. The result is this delightful excursion into post-bop outlands that sounds as alive as ever. Two Coleman pieces comprise nearly half of its duration—which is saying much, for like many of ECM’s joints of the 70s, this one breezes by in under 50 minutes. The first Coleman piece, “Lonely Woman,” walks the tightrope stretched by Haden, who hugs the solo spotlight after a string of progressive fadeouts in this otherwise drum- and horn-heavy opener. Redman and Cherry elicit a peculiar distance in their playing, speaking in tongues from beyond a wall of silence. The second is the more upbeat “Open Or Close.” Its buoyant drumming and unhinged horn soloing do nothing to obscure Haden’s brilliance as he kick-starts his usual pensiveness into overdrive. Not to be outdone, Blackwell whips his snare into a froth before the group reconvenes.

With these territories covered, each band member completes the experience with one tune apiece. Blackwell’s “Togo” is a prime vehicle for Cherry, as is the latter’s own “Guinea.” The music here is reflective of the long journey that had led Cherry from the limelight into political protest and back into ECM’s fold. We hear this in his biting themes and pianistic wanderlust. Redman breaks out the musette (or suona, a Chinese shawm) for his “Orbit Of La-Ba,” a mystical detour into sere grooves. “Song For The Whales,” courtesy of Haden, is the last piece of the puzzle, and shows the bassist in a more experimental mode. Even as he glides along his harmonic slides like some large creaking vessel that is part cosmic ship and part bird, we are held firmly into place. Drums and horns tremble like the very gut of the earth letting its voice be known.

This is a superb album, and regardless of whether these dreams are old or new, they never seem to fade. What makes it so strong is its careful balance of sidewinding monologues and the sense of direction that a full band sound brings. One craves that sound throughout and the expectation it manifests, so that when it comes in such thick doses, it heightens our involvement in the listening. It acknowledges us.