Easy to listen to, but not easy listening

Joshua Redman: Passage of Time

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Saxophonist Joshua Redman is nothing if not prolific, having produced a dozen or so albums since bursting on the jazz scene in the early 90s. He has also been maddeningly all over the map stylistically. For me, that means every album is something of a crapshoot. A couple of times, he has totally blown me away. On other occasions, he has just blown.

Passage of Time falls somewhere in the middle, kind of a solid B. The opening cut, Before, is a solo piece just under two minutes long. It is perhaps the most exciting track on the disk, promising inventiveness and challenges that the other seven tracks don’t quite deliver, at least to my woefully untrained ear.

That said, as I write this, I’m actively listening to the album and thinking, “Oh, wait, that was nice… and that… that too.” It really is very listenable jazz by very accomplished musicians. The problem for me is that I have to remind myself to actively listen. Focused as I am now, I’m totally grooving on it. When I’ve had it on in the kitchen or on my iPod, it keeps sliding into the background.

As inventive and sparkling as some of the music is, the solos all seem to color within the lines too much. The music all flows together a little too seamlessly; you never hear the soloists pushing back, straining against the melody. But perhaps that’s just my inner New Yorker, my hard bop-loving ear getting in the way.

And all that said, maybe the balance of inventiveness and seamlessness makes it perfect dinner music. This is not audio wallpaper. It’s not so assertive as to get in the way of conversation, but it’s interesting enough to occasionally catch your ear and add to the moment, maybe even make a guest stop and ask, “What are we listening to?” And ask it in a good way.

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