Too Much Tchaikovsky

    Joshua Redman’s Sun on Sand

    Issue 105

    We’re taking a break from Beethoven Plus One in order to address a more urgent concern:

    How’re ya fixed for Happy Dances?

    Do you even have one? Of course you do. They come unbidden, when you’ve been sitting in your listening chair for five minutes (or twenty) and you realize the music is just right and your system is working just right, and your heart is ready to move. So you levitate right out of your chair and spontaneously execute just what’s required—your Happy Dance.

    John Atkinson has one, if I recall correctly. When I googled “John Atkinson Happy Dance,” all I came up with was this:

    Heads were banged, walls were shook, feet were set a-dancing.

    That’s from JA’s review of the Chord DAVE, Stereophile June 2017; it’ll have to do. Hey, all of us were born to dance. Certain music brings it out.

    Context helps too. For the past few years, I’ve felt the urge most often when I’m 30,000 feet off the ground, heading away from Atlanta. One of my favorite Happy Dances is still Tightrope, now ten years old but more helpful to my spiritual health today than ever:


    More recently I’ve feasted upon Van Morrison’s The Prophet Speaks, especially tracks like this one, which reminds us that Joey DeFrancesco is a national treasure. Even more recently, I found myself dancing to Gimme Shelter, a properly apocalyptic tune that nevertheless compels your feet to Make Like Mick. (Not really possible when strapped into an airline seat, but wait until you’re sitting alone in your audio sanctuary.)

    All of which brings us to the new Joshua Redman album Sun on Sand (Nonesuch). It’s basically non-stop Happy Dancing, a high-energy celebration that takes off and almost never lets up. Redman is definitely the star, but in this team effort he’s more than ably assisted by bassist Scott Colley, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, and hip string quartet Brooklyn Rider.


    Sun on Sand consists of eight tracks composed and arranged by Patrick Zimmerli, sequenced as in the YouTube collection above. (Although you might have fun trying out other sequences.) Track 1, Flash, features wild polyphony—Redman and the strings churn out a riot of aggressively independent lines. There are concerto-like breaks for the saxophone, underpinned by Colley, punctuated by Takeishi. Track 2, Between Dog and Wolf, features a ton of ostinato (repeating) figures, including the bass lines. There’s a fiddle break in there too, so the stars of Brooklyn Rider get an early chance to show off. Sun on Sand, a slow cooker, opens with Colley and Takeishi; Redman’s lazy, graceful lines dominate the sustained string accompaniment. Dark White makes the strongest case for the album’s North African vibe. Served on a bed of Reichian rhythmic figures, it builds to a stunning climax.

    There’s more, but you need to discover it yourself. I’ll just say this: Starbursts and Haloes provides the single biggest change of pace, offering Redman some stretch-out time with lyrical, meditative sax lines.

    Joshua Redman has made a habit of doing the unexpected throughout his career, and here he surprises us again. His playing is so fluent—so fluid—that you can’t easily tell when he’s improvising and when he’s just reading down the charts. It all sounds easy, but that doesn’t make it simple. More like natural: Einstein tossing off a few logarithms.

    Redman and company premiered this set at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2014. (That’s the sort of innovation-with-intelligence thing that Wigmore does.) He and Zimmerli had collaborated before, on 2013’s Walking Shadows. Takeishi had also worked with the composer. Here they’re well-matched with Brooklyn Rider, a string quartet that far outshines any other such group now working. By “such group” I mean classically trained players who put no boundaries on what they play. Haydn, Steve Reich, Charlie Parker, Gilberto Gil are all in safe hands with them. (Check out their Tiny Desk set with Mexican singer Magos Herrera.)

    Patrick Zimmerli was a new name to me, but it shouldn’t have been. This guy—like Bryce Dessner, whom we highlighted in TMT #104—is everywhere, doing everything. He spends a lot of time in Paris but popped up in NYC last November to oversee a performance of his oratorio Instrument of Destiny, based on the World War I poetry of Alan Seeger.

    With Sun on Sand, it was Takeishi who first won me over. He is an absolute master at introducing new colors and infectious rhythmic variations in virtually every track on the album. It doesn’t hurt that his contributions are engineered to maximum advantage (by Tom Lazarus, at Sear Sound and Avatar, with mastering by Bob Ludwig). But the engineers don’t stint on anyone: Brooklyn Rider’s vivid string sound and Colley’s huge, juicy bass tones get their considerable due as well.

    And now for our digestif: coming home from Montréal last week, high in the sky with Delta once again, I discovered Macha Gharibian, a French jazz pianist and vocalist who handles all sorts of musics—bar-band rock, Armenian traditional tunes, Paul Simon covers—with aplomb. Her new album Joy Ascension (Meredith/Rue Bleue/PIAS) further confuses and enriches her identity. There’s something here for everyone. The thing is, she is the “everyone” who’s making this lovely music; like Whitman, she contains multitudes. If you’d rather hear another predictable, bland female like so many who swarm the audiophile hills, her versatility may put you off.

    The rest of us will happily dig in. Let’s start with a trailer for Joy Ascension that features Sari Saroun Yar, an Armenian song with doudouk that I can’t get out of my head. (Because a couple of my clients perform it, I’ve been working with a lot of Armenian traditional music lately; you won’t find anything more haunting or soulful.)


    If you click on the lower-right-hand box that appears toward the end of the above video, you’ll get a 45-second taste of Georgian Mood, another of my favorites. But maybe you’ll need more than 45 seconds to appreciate the way she unfolds this exquisite little groove. So here’s more:

    See what I mean? Worlds within worlds. I hereby offer one more taste, namely her take on 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover:

    Hope that makes you a fan too.

    See you next time! Beethoven, most likely, but with some surprises as well.


    Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Tore Sætre.

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