Joshua Redman's 2007 album Back East rightfully drew critical comparisons to Sonny Rollins' legendary trio date Way Out West, given everything from the mirror image implication in the title to the manner in which Redman offered the material on the set. The presence of Rollins looms large over Compass as well. Once more, Redman explores a piano-less trio, though there are some quartet and quintet numbers here. Redman is accompanied by longtime friends and collaborators, including drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson, and bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers.
The material is with one exception -- a compelling reworking of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (here known simply as "Moonlight") -- all composed by either Redman or the group. The tunes include some beautiful ballads, such as "Little Ditty," some smoking boppers like "Round Reuben" and "Hutchhiker's Guide," and a beautiful Indo-Asian-kissed number called "Ghost." There is some stellar communication in this band -- check "March" for a single but not isolated example of the intricacies of deep listening and a generous sense of flow. The doubling of rhythm players on the quintet sides doesn't bowl the listener over -- though it could and is hinted at in places -- but rather serves the melody and the arching sense of loose harmonics Redman places at their disposal, and uses time as a device to be toyed with rather than turned in on itself in the service of pure blowing. That said, this is one of the great ironies here, because Redman is looser and more relaxed on Compass than he has ever been on a studio recording.
His usual overly studied and cautious approach is largely left at the threshold, even as his now trademark sense of melodic restraint is evident on "Faraway." This serves Redman well, and also offers another signpost to Rollins' influence, because it seems that on Compass, Redman has finally learned the greatest trick from his mentor -- to walk out on the wire with his horn more, trust the fluid abilities of his incredible rhythm section(s), and let his inner sense of song and freedom take precedence over his already well-established sense of discipline.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
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