Two years ago, the Harvard-educated saxophonist Joshua Redman stripped his band down to a trio, Sonny Rollins-style, and produced his finest album, "Back East." Perhaps operating under the assumption that a double trio would be twice as good, Redman has just issued a sequel, "Compass," which employs two basses and two drummers.
One might think that a saxophonist playing with two bassists and two drummers would result in chaos and noise. One would be incorrect. Redman, still several days shy of his 40th birthday, brought his double trio to Berklee Performance Center and put on the show of his life. Redman has always been an entertaining musician, but Thursday he played more confidently and powerfully than ever.
The five musicians didn't play together the whole night; they often broke into various incarnations of a sax-bass-drums trio. But when all five did play at the same time, it made for a wild symbiosis. They started on an energy high on "Identity Thief," with the two rhythm sections - drummer Brian Blade/bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Gregory Hutchinson/bassist Reuben Rogers - taking turns establishing the groove. Soon the two bassists were dueling - in a friendly manner more than a cutting contest - and then the drummers returned. But play in unison they did not, and never did. One would anchor the rhythm, and the other would augment with texture and accents.
Redman, for his part, fueled them all with insistent, dramatic solos and seat-shaking two-note phrases. His is a physical style; he punctuated notes both high and low with leg kicks and body bends. Occasionally he vocalized a "mm-hmm" or "ahhh" between notes, as though he'd just discovered a passage he particularly enjoyed.
The musicians were subtler when only three shared the stage. Redman bent the pitch of several notes back and forth during an unaccompanied section that bridged "Hutchhiker's Guide" and "Insomnomaniac." His solo began to grow rowdy, and suddenly - bam! - Redman stomped his foot, signaling Hutchinson and Rogers to enter. When they did, they churned out a dynamic 4/4 rhythm that managed to feel odd-metered.
The full double trio, though, was the star of the show. The five men closed the set by blasting through a cover of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans tune "The Time of the Barracudas" (the only song that didn't come from "Compass"). For all the power and fury, however, the evening's surprise was the encore. "We're gonna play a little 19th-century tune," Redman announced, and led the double trio through his own delicate arrangement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." What confidence it must have taken not only to turn that piece into jazz but to close a show with it.
Triple trio, anyone?
Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.