They started about 18 minutes late, and the program ran until 11:20 p.m., but saxophone fanatics probably didn’t mind a bit. It was “Tenor Madness” night at the Hollywood Bowl, where the faithful received blasts of what amounted to state-of-the-art burning on the tenor saxophone — and not just from headliners Michael Brecker and Joshua Redman.
Brecker may well be our most representative tenor sax player for all seasons, ready and able to blow in situations ranging from the most innocuous studio gig to the most complex, flat-out acoustic jazz excursions. His influence among fellow saxophonists is immense — and small wonder, given the way he ripped through his set in the first half of the evening.
This was an assertive, brazenly aggressive Brecker offset by an antic sense of humor, exploring every permutation of freewheeling post-bop. As the centerpiece, he inserted an extraordinary unaccompanied takeoff on ” ‘Round Midnight,” making even repeated arpeggios sound compelling. Moreover, his band had the means to push him further out, with pianist Joey Calderazzo producing stabbing repetitions and ultimately a gospel fervor not unlike that of Keith Jarrett (complete with vocal obbligato), and Marsalis family associate Jeff “Tain” Watts mixing it up brilliantly on drums. At times, their last number could have been mistaken for a reunion of Jarrett’s fiery American quartet of the 1970s.
Redman, who can be heard interpreting pop tunes on the new “Space Cowboys” soundtrack and in straight-ahead, odd-meter excursions on his latest CD “Beyond” (both Warner Bros.), didn’t emerge until 10:25 p.m., though he still squeezed in a full set devoted to selections from “Beyond.” Redman’s quartet didn’t reach the combustive level of the Brecker group, although the romping, stomping energy at the end came tantalizingly close. Nevertheless, he is playing with a somewhat lighter tone now than in the recent past, his command of nuance and expression continuing to grow.
Alas, the programmers missed a great closing bet: They should have had the two tenors duke it out mano a mano in front of Brecker’s quartet. But there were compensatory added saxophone pleasures within the two sets by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra — Rickey Woodard’s way with an unusually brash chart of “Georgia on My Mind” and Charles Owens’ endlessly inventive blues wailing on “Night Train.”
And the choice of the night’s most intriguing arrangement was easy: John Clayton’s eccentric treatment of Thelonious Monk’s eccentric “Evidence,” with quirks and crazy dissonances hanging out for all to savor.