In recent years, a well-done tribute album has almost become its own form of release. But to truly pay proper homage to its subject, it must only be a point of departure. The ultimate purpose must be to create an entirely new musical journey that only looks back to move forward. Composer and saxophonist Rob Reddy's stunning new album Bechet: Our Contemporary does exactly that - and a good deal more. Intertwining Sidney Bechet's music with original works inspired by him, Reddy has not simply updated the legendary icon's image, but presents him as the truly avant-garde and innovative giant that he still is today.
"I see this project as an honest and respectful attempt at honoring Bechet's place in history as a seriously forward-thinking, avant-garde artist of his time, while also putting his work into conversation with our own present-day sociopolitical landscape," comments Reddy.
The fact that Rob Reddy is also a soprano saxophonist must only be viewed as coincidental here. Every player of that instrument owes an inspirational debt to its father; and Reddy's full-bodied, vibrant and sinuously impassioned sound certainly amplifies the context of this music. Since his emergence on the scene in the late 1980s, he has virtually always been a leader and conceptualist, and for the past 20 years has been a visionary, heavily acclaimed and an often commissioned composer for a wide variety of ensembles ranging from five to nineteen musicians.
On Bechet: Our Contemporary, Reddy has assembled some of New York's most outstanding contemporary musicians to join him in this brilliant ensemble. In the classic traditions of Ellington, Mingus, George Russell and Gil Evans, Reddy's composing is dialed directly into the distinctive sounds of his musicians; most of whom have been frequent participants in his music, some for over 20 years. John Carlson on trumpet and Curtis Fowlkes on trombone join Reddy on the horn line, violinist Charlie Burnham, cellist Marika Hughes, guitarist Marvin Sewell, and Rob's longtime bass/drums collaborators Dom Richards and Pheeroan akLaff round out this sterling group. Despite Reddy sharing Bechet's primary focus upon the same instrument, this is not a showcase for his soprano playing, but rather his profound vision.
The depth and scope of the compositions and arrangements require an intense focus, an urgency and unfettered creativity, and a release of the inner spirit in both virtuosity and abandon to spawn the synergy required to bring this music to its highest level. The challenging discipline of freedom is fully realized, keeping the music spontaneous and visceral, but totally within the intent of the Reddy's vision. The result is music that meets the seemingly contradictory goals of being powerfully earthy, yet utterly transcendent. The exhilaration, joy, wit, beauty and sheer fun of Sidney Bechet are in radiant presence, translated and re-imagined by Reddy.
"The idea was to approach Bechet as a composer and intertwine his original compositions with those of my own, making a narrative between the two that made sense; and have my musicians play and improvise on his compositions just as I ask them to do with my own, seeking the same openness, energy, commitment and wisdom," explains Reddy.
The delightful repertoire includes four Bechet pieces and four Reddy originals. Vividly reflecting that purest sense of tribute to produce inspirations, it is challenging to differentiate Bechet's from Reddy's compositions as Reddy has made Bechet's so much his own; and Bechet's inspiration such a fundamental component of his own writing. It would be highly inappropriate to overlook the compelling lyricism and exquisite beauty of Bechet's music for the sake of modernism, but it would be equally invalid to underplay the groundbreaking adventurousness and depth of sophistication that Bechet brought to the music. With that in mind, some of the most "down home" moments are in Reddy's originals and some of the most unabashedly contemporary are on Bechet works.
"Song of the Medina" epitomizes Reddy's brilliant compositional approach and his choice of the jazz idiom as his primary means of expression. While his vernacular is rooted in the full scope of American folk forms- including blues, gospel, country, marches, and the full scope of the jazz legacy - the jazz form provides the ideal canvas for his painting. Trusting his musicians to contribute freely to the context without losing track of the story he's telling incorporates the improvisations into the composition, giving it new life with each time you listen. This extended work anchors the album with its expansive sonic landscape reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's finest creations.
Bechet's signature piece, "Petite Fleur" is evocatively atmospheric, with the beautiful melody stated by violin colored by the soprano and buoyed on a swirling undertow of colors and shapes. Reddy's "Erasing Statues" features drawling horns in a slow drag procession - almost funereal, but joyously hymnal. Gospel of another sort is the mode for Bechet's "Chant in the Night,"with guest artist Lisa Parrott's baritone sax clearing the church entrance for an exuberant, rapturous prayer meeting excursion of Mingus-like jubilation. In mesmerizing fashion, Reddy's "Yank"weaves between abstract rubato ruminations and alluring, richly lyrical orchestration.
Reddy's "Speedy Joe"is a brief, nicely textured aperitif that leads into the album's concluding piece, Bechet's "Broken Windmill" - a perfect complement to Reddy's "Up-South,"which opens this stunning album. A boisterous, celebratory piece with so much going on underneath, it aptly demonstrates the powerful influence that early New Orleans music had upon the collective approach of the avant-garde and foretells how the album will do proper justice to the spirit of Bechet. "Broken Windmill"(with Oscar Noriega's clarinet adding the extra spice)mirrors that piece in bouncing, effervescent early jazz vigor, bringing everything full circle to its source.
This is Reddy's seventh album-his third for his own Reddy Music label that he founded in 2006-and the first time that he has ever incorporated another composer's work into his music, but it's eminently clear that this extraordinary music is his own as well as another major step in the legacy of one of today's most important composers.
Rob Reddy · Bechet: Our Contemporary
Reddy Music · Release Date: September 11, 2015