Back in the summer of 1991, Redman was headed for Wall Street — not the one in Lower Manhattan, but the one in downtown New Haven, where our next crop of presidents earn their law degrees. Instead of litigating for the next decade, Redman stayed in Brooklyn, improvising with his roommates, stealing the show at the Thelonious Monk competition that November. His debut came two years later on Warner Brothers with a bop-infused mix of original compositions and covers. Unlike most contemporary jazz players, Redman wasn’t doing Kenny G and Barry Manilow but challenging them with Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins. He wasn’t particularly inventive then; he was more of a window into ’50s and ’60s jazz.
With “Elastic,” Redman has shed his Broadway roots for a fusion-based trio of electric and acoustic that simultaneously recalls Miles Davis and John Zorn. There are hints of “Bitches Brew” with Sam Yahel punctuating grooves on a Fender Rhodes, a Hammond B-3 organ, and a Wurlitzer electric. “Jazz Crimes,” features Yahel soloing like John Medeski without the intensity. On the other side of the spectrum are songs like the opening track, “Molten Soul,” where Redman uses modal riffs partially borrowed out of Zorn’s “Masada.” Brian Blade’s percussive beats illuminate the ensemble such as on the fifth track “Still Pushing that Rock,” which showcases non-traditional patterns while keeping with the laid-back mood of the tracks.
“Elastic” is the first album in Redman’s 11 years with Warner Brothers that has something new to say about jazz. He has always been a spectacular musician, but now he is an innovator. Not in the way that Bird or Miles reinvented jazz, but in a more subtle blending of new and old. Redman has taken Monk and Pharoah Sanders into a ’70s and ’80s jazz realm, which falls somewhere between Louis Armstrong and DJ Logic. “Elastic” is not a simple welding of genres; it is a careful recipe of funk, fusion, swing and soul. Redman counts James Brown, Radiohead and Bjork as his influences. It’s difficult to pick out Bjork between sax solos, but Brown definitely had his moment in the sun.
What really makes the album is that from the moment you press play you can’t stop moving. It is not the kind of energy of Zorn’s punk-influenced jazz but a more hypnotic sense of cool. It’s like a grooving “Kind of Blue” minus the pretension. “Elastic” is an exciting next step in the current jazz scene that has recently felt a dip in sales and creativity. Over the past 10 years Redman has proved himself to be a master of the craft, and with “Elastic” he has finally shown himself as an innovative musician and composer.