Inspired by Sonny Rollins's "Way Out West", he first explored the saxophone-bass-drums trio format on "Back East" in 2007, but goes a step further here on a set that features bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers, and drummers Gregory Hutchinson and Brian Blade, in combinations that include regular trio (six tracks), a quartet with two basses (two tracks), and all five players (five tracks).
As Redman himself says, "Common sense was telling me to stay away, that it had the makings of a big mess. All that bass and drums could end up sounding muddy, clumsy, directionless, unfocused.
But my imagination kept leading me back to this idea, and, at a certain point, I decided it was worth a try".
According to Joshua Eedman, his new album is "a further exploration of the trio format... an expansion on, and an extension of Back East".
And he's not wrong. At times, it is a dazzling album of considerable artistry. With an experienced supporting team, he stretches the players ever further, fronting both rhythm sections and, on five of the tracks here, performing with the entire line-up in a double-trio configuration.
The resulting album is possibly Redman's best to date.
It is the most spontaneous of Redman's recordings, with a disciplined but freewheeling sense of adventurous interaction that is sometimes missing on his more carefully structured earlier projects.
It's certainly his most natural and relaxed-sounding, an outcome explained by his determination, pre-recording, to "embrace ... the unfamiliar" by eschewing careful preparation and rigid planning and telling himself just to "get in the studio and see how it goes".
Here he sets his sights on all points of the titular compass, exploring a dazzling range of registers, idioms and moods in the course of an exciting and inventive disc.
The music is all original, other than a delicate exploration of Beethoven's Moonlight theme from the piano sonata of that name.
The album's immediate attraction is its loose, fresh informality, a spontaneous and sparky liveliness that is in some measure attributable to the sheer skill of the participants, but also to said approach.
Redman has never sounded better, his tone sure but intensely personal, and in Blade and Hutchinson he has two of the most sensitive drummers in contemporary jazz, plus two eloquently propulsive bassists in Grenadier and Rogers.
The likes of "Identity Thief" and "Just Like You" are pumped up, while his reading on on Beethoven's Moonlight is sweetly subtle and "Little Ditty" downright exquisite.
Freer than much of Redman's previous work, "Compass" is none the less tight and vigorous for that, and comes highly recommended.
"Bleak, emotional and full of gravity, Compass is the sort of serious-minded album that gives jazz in 2009 a very good name". - BBC
Way Out West