Redman, Blade, Mehldau, McBride Defy Notions Of The Genre

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Bassist Christian McBride (left), saxophonist Joshua Redman, drummer Brian Blade and pianist Brad Mehldau reconvened in the studio after more than two decades for RoundAgain.

(Photo: Michael Wilson)

Twenty-six years ago, a new quartet led by a rising star in the jazz world demonstrated how the music could be inclusive, expressive and joyful, an emphatic rebuttal of the perception that the genre was too esoteric and incapable of relating to other forms of popular music.

“One thing that we’ve all had in common: We’ll always be jazz musicians—and maybe jazz musicians first and foremost—but we’ve always all loved different sorts of music,” saxophonist Joshua Redman said about the ensemble that recorded his 1994 album MoodSwing. “[N]one of us has ever felt that being a jazz musician was any sort of exclusive choice, like choosing jazz meant rejecting anything else.”

Redman, drummer Brian Blade, pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Christian McBride should have been preparing to tour throughout the summer and into the fall in support of RoundAgain (Nonesuch), the long-awaited sequel to MoodSwing. In the interim, each player’s individual destinies have catapulted them toward icon status. They’ve collaborated in various settings during the ensuing decades, and even as a quartet once or twice. But this planned tour was to be the first real stretch of everyone coming together again as an ensemble.

Blade and Redman met in the early 1990s and have been friends for almost as long as they’ve been professional musicians. One of them, an engaging and brilliant saxophonist and would-be law student, had traveled across the country from Berkeley, California, to attend Harvard University. The other, a pastor’s son from Shreveport, Louisiana, had moved downstate for classes at Loyola University, playing drums with local musicians in New Orleans, and studying with, among others, pianist Ellis Marsalis, the recently departed patriarch of the Marsalis clan. It was Delfeayo Marsalis—the pianist’s son and then a recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music—who brought Redman down from Boston to meet Blade for the first time.

“I felt an immediate connection to him and to the way he played, and to him as a person,” Blade reminisced, speaking by phone from Shreveport after the pandemic put an end to regular touring for the foreseeable future.

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