The allure for improvisation has never waned for tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman. Even after a decade of popular acclaim, he”s hardly one to rest on past laurels. Much preferred is the spirit of the moment, where his acoustic quartet skillfully sails into demanding jazz overdrive.

Paul Wong
Joshua Redman and his magic sax.<br><br>Courtesy of UMS

For the 32-year-old Redman, playing jazz has become nearly a sacrosanct exercise, a privilege and honor for respectfully extending jazz”s hallowed acoustic tradition. Addressing this urgency, his latest CD, Passage of Time, hits on personal reflections of where he”s been and what musical mountain he”s likely to scale next. Redman”s composer-producer profile yields maturity and self-control, culminating his first decade as a jazz artist.

Just as tantalizing as his lauded discography is his live persona, where Redman and pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Ruben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson take jazz soloing and interplay to incendiary heights at numerous instances. Friday at Ann Arbor”s Michigan Theater, Redman”s short winter tour kicks up its heels in a double-bill with pianist and Warner Brothers label mate Brad Mehldau”s trio opening.

“With this record I was trying to creatively express myself both as an individual and part of a group,” said Redman, by telephone from his New York home, fresh from a European tour. “The music really serves as a point of departure for group improvisation. It acts like one long piece of music. And it”s the most ambitious music I”ve composed yet.”

On Passage of Time, Redman delivers a musical travelogue, weaving a storyline full of soloed introspection, spontaneity and bright moments for his band”s zestful exuberance. Their collective kinesis is nothing short of invigorating. Now four years running, this is Redman”s most seasoned quartet and their reactive sensibilities compliment his compositional lan.

“Jazz gives you an ability to respond spontaneously. But this isn”t necessarily a career milestone. I didn”t intend it to be that way. It”s a more complex project, and a culmination of everything I”ve done as a quartet bandleader,” said Redman, the son of noted jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman.

Redman has fashioned glossy credentials both as a sideman (Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock) and a solo artist (Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Competition winner, 1991). And his formative days back in home Berkeley, Calif., are what makes celebrity an enchanting yarn.

Back at Berkeley High School, Redman was valedictorian of his class and counted soon-to-be-jazz stars Benny Green (piano) and Craig Handy (sax) as musical classmates in straight-ahead jazz. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, then sailed through Harvard (“91) with honors and was accepted to Yale Law School. But after opting to leisurely pursue jazz saxophone the next summer, he discovered an artistic calling. So far he”s kept a professional degree at bay while garnering scores of annual jazz awards from Down Beat, The Gavin Report, Rolling Stone and JazzTimes, saxophone in hand.

“The past few years I”ve realized that music and being a jazz musician is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” Redman said. “If I can continue to do this and make a decent living and grow as a musician, this is it for me.”

Redman readily acknowledges the presence of a large number of accomplished, motivated musicians to play with in New York. It”s fueled his fire as a jazz musician. “That”s why New York has the best jazz scene because there”s a higher concentration of talent. In Boston it”s more on the educational side,” he said.

Besides jazz merriment in the studio and on the road, his home life is more than casual. Married for four years, Redman”s philosophy of life adheres to keeping things simple yet improvisational. “The key is balancing music from the outside and from the inside,” he said. “The past four years I”ve balanced my tour schedule to spend more time at home and living a life. And I”ve been able to grow as a person through my music.”

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