In Dewey Redman's knowing hands, the tenor saxophone is capable of expressing surprisingly varied emotions, colors and moods. After clearing a little room for his quartet at the crowded One Step Down last night, Redman opened with "Gotta Get Some Sleep," the first of three original pieces. It was an extended post-bop excursion which beautifully balanced a sense of enormous motion and restlessness with moments of unencumbered swing and quiet reflection.
Another tune, as yet untitled, was dedicated to Martin Luther King. This was an unusually expressive ballad, a haunting melody initially carried by Redman and then thoughtfully expanded upon by pianist Charles Eubanks. Drummer John Betsch's sensitive brush work and bassist Mark Helias' understated support made the tribute all the more eloquent.
In addition to Ornette Coleman, with whom Redman played, he is clearly influenced by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Like Coltrane's, his improvisations have a discernible logic and direction no matter what the context; and Rollins' aggressive approach could often be heard on Redman's more mainstream offerings like "Joie de Vivre."
All that was missing from last night's opening set was Redman's musette. He didn't play this evocative double reed instrument, but there's always the possibility he will tonight when he performs again. With or without it, he'll be playing jazz of a very high order.