It’s no coincidence as the final minutes fade on “Still Dreaming,” the newest Nonesuch album featuring saxophonist Joshua Redman, that the music is reaching a boil. It does so several times on this conundrum of a record — a figurative tribute to a jazz legacy that, in turn, honored a forefather of the music. There is also a more literal family connection. In the end, though, what distinguishes this very satisfying new album is an ability to stand proudly on its own might and merit.
First, the particulars. “Still Dreaming” takes it cue from Old and New Dreams, a quartet composed of four noted alumni members of the great Ornette Coleman’s band. Old and New Dreams was more of an extension of Coleman’s working philosophies than of his actual repertoire and free improvisational approach. As such, “Still Dreaming” is devoted more to the musical theorizing of Old and New Dreams — specifically, the multicultural matrix of its compositions (one of which, the Ghanaian inspired “Togo,” was resurrected by Chris Potter at his recent Lyric Theatre concert), as well as the general unhurried structure of its playing — rather than to any overt tribute intentions.
Similarly, “Still Dreaming” works off a repertoire of mostly original material just as Old and New Dreams leaned more to its own tunes than Coleman’s.
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While the spirit of Coleman is very present on “Still Dreaming,” another presence is keenly felt. It belongs to Redman’s father, the late Dewey Redman, who played saxophone in Old and New Dreams. If you were to place “Still Dreaming” next to the records of the elder Redman, similarities would be tough to pinpoint. The younger Redman’s sound is more playful, gentle and varied — qualities beautifully exhibited on the new album’s “Haze and Aspirations.” Here, Redman circles around the cornet lines Ron Miles, who assumes the chair maintained in Old and New Dreams by another legend, Don Cherry.
In terms of sheer sentiment, it’s not Coleman, Cherry or father Redman who is addressed most directly on “Still Dreaming,” although all are acknowledged on an update of “Comme Il Faut,” a graciously rambunctious exchange pulled from Coleman’s 1969 album “Crisis.” No, the spirit most profoundly guiding the younger Redman’s crew is the late bassist Charlie Haden. Scott Colley, who studied with Haden, doesn’t simply echo his one-time teacher’s phrasing. He also embraces Haden’s balance of poise and adventure. That plays out exquisitely on “Blues for Charlie,” from Redman’s opening bounces of woe on tenor sax to the richer dialogue it triggers as Colley, Miles and drummer Brian Blade build upon the blues.
It all makes for a jazz adventure that begs for repeated listening. The more you tune in, the more you hear the present day curators of a sublime jazz legacy forging its music into something unmistakably new.