Friday, December 07, 2007

Reissue Love: The Struggle Continues

The Struggle Continues
By Dewey Redman
ECM 1225

It might be a tad unorthodox to review a reissue, but the digital rebirth of Dewey Redman’s The Struggle Continues certainly rates such consideration. Long unavailable since its original 1982 vinyl release, Struggle’s reissue has been long hoped for by his fans. Rumors circulated on the now defunct Blue Note Records bulletin boards that the original tapes had been lost or some other technical problems were preventing its release. Happily, these rumors were either unfounded internet disinformation, or the tapes were found and the problems were fixed, as Struggle is now on available on CD shelves from ECM.

Perhaps surprising to some, the music of Struggle is largely bop-oriented, but to recycle part of a 2004 Signal to Noise review I wrote of a Lincoln Center Ornette Coleman tribute concert featuring the tenor player: “Redman, who as a longtime collaborator with Coleman and the father of young post-bop tenor Joshua Redman, represents a sort of nexus of jazz history. Redman has also shown an ability to modulate the ‘freeness’ of his playing.” Indeed, throughout his career, and especially on Struggle, has exhibited a flexible approach to the music.

The opening original “Thren” is a real Bird-flight, featuring the bop chops of Redman and pianist Charles Eubanks. While their solos may venture into free territory, they never stray far from the underlying blues. Despite a somewhat plaintive introduction, the following “Love Is” resolves into a lyrical ballad, which showcases Redman’s warmth on tenor rather than his fire. Struggle also benefits from a strong band surrounding Redman, including bassist Mark Helias, who contributes an elegant pizzicato solo on “Love.”

Redman was indeed a Texas Tenor, part of a long tradition of lusty, bluesy, full-bodied saxophone playing, which is showcased on “Turn Over Baby” over Helias’s funky bass lines. It is unapologetic greasiness, more Arnett Cobb than Ornette, though Coleman also had roots in Texas R&B. It is followed by “Joie de Vivre,” an appropriately titled sprightly swinging bop-based original.

“Combination” is unquestionably the piece furthest “out” in the set, but for those with just a cursory familiarity with jazz developments in the late 1960’s, it will hardly sound alarming. Frenetically paced at just over five minutes, it provides Redman and Eubanks latitude for some pretty free, if brief, explorations, as well as a nicely constructed drum solo from Ed Blackwell. Redman finishes with an explicit return to bebop with Charlie Parker’s “Dewey Square,” which shares the breezy swinging vibe of “Joie de Vivre.”

While not as celebrated as Coleman, the loss of Redman was deeply felt in the jazz community, with his January memorial at St. Peter’s garnering press coverage in the NY Times. It is great to have Struggle readily available now, as it is very accessible introduction to Redman for new listeners.