Given the rather conservative booking policies at the Midtown club Jazz at the Bistro, the engagement of tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman and his Elastic Band represents a bit of a departure. It's true that when the Berkeley-bred, Harvard-educated Redman released his debut album in 1993, many critics and listeners lumped him in with the post-Marsalis neoconservative movement in jazz. And judging from his subsequent output -- eight albums of acoustic jazz featuring a mix of veterans such as Charlie Haden and the late Billy Higgins and younger musicians schooled in the bop tradition -- Redman would seem to be a seamless fit into the club's usual formula of hard bop, Latin jazz and vocalists mining the great American songbook.
But Redman's latest recorded effort marks a significant change in direction for the 33-year-old saxophonist. Part postmodern organ trio, part homage to the brand of '70s jazz fusion exemplified by Weather Report, Elastic features longtime Redman associate Brian Blade on drums and NYC keyboardist Sam Yahel on organ, Rhodes piano and synths. Though funky rhythms and electronic keyboard textures are everywhere, the trio manages to avoid smooth-jazz clichés, thanks in large part to Redman's Shorteresque economy and tunes that are more harmonically complex and formally challenging than much of today's electric jazz. With roots in informal jams that began in late-'90s NYC, the Elastic Band would seem to be a genuinely organic outgrowth of Redman's musical explorations rather than a cynical grab for radio airplay.