For his second straight trio album (and 13th overall since 1993), super-talented/adventurously creative tenor and soprano saxophonist Joshua Redman, 40, has taken what he started on 2007’s Back East (acoustic sax/bass/drums) a step further on Compass. The previous album used Sonny Rollins’ seminal 1957 Way Out West as a template. This one goes way out on a limb in eclectic fashion (even interpreting Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”). Redman utilizes two bassists (Reuben Rogers/Larry Grenadier) and two drummers (Gregory Hutchinson/Brian Blade) in a rotating trio system which gives all five musicians the chance to stretch.
Redman’s compositions and arrangements meander wildly from track to track. He wrote 12 of the 13. Then he got a brainstorm. What if, besides the trio format, certain tracks contained all five? Redman and co-producer James Farber positioned the musicians in the studio as they would appear in the mix: One drummer on the far left, another far right, the two bassists close in the middle. On “Identity Thief,” the “double trio” concept is awakened by Redman’s tenor like an early morn alarm clock for the twin rhythm sections. It soon escalates into a pulsing organic jam. You can sit there and actually watch the music unfold as Grenadier’s bass follows Redman’s line close on the left, Hutchinson hitting his skins on the right. It’s all rather dizzying and hypnotic.
There’s some tried-and-true swing, some stone cold bop, but the best tracks have a nervous restless energy that almost makes you jittery. Then there’s the tracks that are positively spooky: Soundtrack-type eerie haunts that make you look over your shoulder, almost unsettling in their flagrant mystery. Oftentimes the musicians seem to be tentative, feeling their way across a barren landscape without sight, then joyously rubbing up against each other.