The Bad Plus has almost exclusively performed as a trio for its nearly 20-year existence. Guests occasionally join the band in concert, but only one of their previous 10 discs has included a fourth member. In 2011, bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer David King invited saxophonist Joshua Redman to join them for a week of enthusiastically received performances at the Blue Note in New York City. They then played a handful of dates before heading into the studio last year to record their debut album, “The Bad Plus Joshua Redman.” “Playing with The Bad Plus has allowed me to explore a part of my playing, and my musical heritage, that I’ve never before accessed in quite the same way with any other group,” Redman explains. “The adventure with The Bad Plus pushes me toward the fringes and draws me into the core.”
To pay proper tribute to a legend, an artist must do more than pay homage but must extend that storied legacy, demonstrating its timelessness by offering a musical vision that is immediate and of the present. “I’ve wanted to do this tribute to J.J. Johnson for 20 years but I never felt quite ready,” explains trombonist Steve Davis of his new CD, “Say When.” “Something kept telling me, ‘Just wait. Just wait.’ Then a year-and-a-half ago, we did the J.J. weekend at Smoke with this sextet and I finally realized it was time.” Davis and his team of collaborators—trumpeter Eddie Henderson, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, and the sterling rhythm section of Harold Mabern, Nat Reeves and Joe Farnsworth—deliver the tribute powerfully and with clear affinity and devotion.
Also this week, pianist Janice Friedman and her trio—bassist Ed Howard and drummer Victor Lewis—deliver “Live at Kitano,” recorded in 2011 and featuring classics from the likes of George Gershwin and Billie Holiday, a few more obscure jazz tunes as well as Friedman’s own compositions; the Moroccan-born, Australia-based guitarist Albare and his multicultural ensemble (Venezuelan, Cuban and Italian) release “Only Human”; and after four discs co-led with saxophonist Ken Fowser, vibraphonist Behn Gillece debuts as a leader in his own right with “Mindset.”