Butch Warren & Freddie Redd
Baltimore Jazz Loft
Brad Linde contains multitudes. Yet given how many of those multitudes tilt toward quirky and often avant-garde concepts, it’s surprising that a splendid pair of new releases not only feature straight-ahead bebop, but find Linde himself taking a back seat. Why?
The answer, it turns out, is that Linde is giving final showcases—both recorded at Baltimore’s An Die Musik over a single weekend in January 2013—to two of the region’s departed jazz legends. It wasn’t intentional; Freddie Redd, the veteran hard bop pianist who leads Reminiscing, died March 17 in New York. Butch Warren, the D.C. bass icon who co-leads Baltimore Jazz Loft with Redd, passed away in October 2013; this was his final recording. (Redd made two more albums before retiring from music in 2015, but these are the last set of recordings to be released during his lifetime.)
“The hope was to have something for Freddie to sell at his own gigs to make some extra cash,” Linde explains. “We pulled together a bunch of his tunes, including some unrecorded stuff, and laid it down. That worked out so well that we invited Butch the next night for basically a blowing session. Then Freddie disappeared to New York without telling anyone, and Butch died that fall, and life got away from us all.”
He resurrected the sessions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “With just the fragility of life right now, it was time to pull the trigger,” he said in February, “while Freddie can enjoy it.” Reminiscing was released on Feb. 2; Baltimore Jazz Loft followed on Feb. 16.
Reminiscing is a slate of eight Redd compositions, on which New York ace Matt Wilson plays drums and Baltimorean Michael Formanek takes the bass. (There are also two guest saxophonists—tenor Brian Settles on six tracks and alto/soprano Sarah Hughes on two.) Redd’s batch of tunes impress. They’re soulful, swinging, and deceptively lyrical; the phrases are so simple and catchy that the unconventional forms Redd deploys slip right past you. The title tune, for example, stitches together no less than five different four-bar sections; the moody ballad “Shadows” cycles through four. While the opener, “Oh! So Good,” has only two strains, it lures you in with an A so pithy it could be an ostinato, then sends you reeling with a linear, complex B.
It’s Redd’s piano playing, though, that delivers the knockout. There are no breakneck tempos here—the leader has nothing left to prove. He doubles down on the melodicism instead. The solo on “Love is Love” is a reduction of the theme (albeit one with dense harmonies), and Redd’s spaces and condensations of the phrases are expressive. Where the speed does ramp up, as on “Blues X,” he takes it in stride, keeping pace through a scorching Settles solo. When it’s his turn, though, you can almost see him pulling the reins: He lets the first four bars go by without a single note, then digs deep into the blues at a leisurely, in-my-own-good-time gait, only to pick up again to comp for Linde’s solo.
Then comes Baltimore Jazz Loft, on which it’s quickly clear that Warren has also turned to making his point without fireworks. It’s Redd who’s the loquacious one on “Among Friends,” in which he unfurls chorus after improvised (if well-crafted) chorus. When Warren takes the spotlight, he doesn’t even break the walking bass cadence, firing off three measured blues choruses that could have been accompaniments. He does the same on “A Little Chippie,” which also has Warren playing the sly lead melody line, making him a bit more forthright here, though that melody is not flashy either.
When he lets loose with a more conventionally melodic solo, on the bossa nova “Barack Obama,” it’s tight, carefully constructed, and succinct. (He audibly says “OK” to the band after one chorus.) It’s also remarkably thoughtful and beautiful. Yet one quickly realizes that Warren expresses himself as clearly in his supporting role as in improvising. As lovely as he can get on “Barack Obama” or the standard “I Can’t Get Started,” there’s something profoundly declarative in the deep, resonant notes he places under Redd and Linde’s work on those same tracks.
Teaching a lesson on mastery through economy doesn’t seem to have been Linde’s goal with the releases. Throughout both albums, he’s not a run-on player, but not taciturn either. All the same, Linde has aged eight years since they were recorded—and watched both revered veterans pass away in the meantime. One wonders how he, and his multitudes, will process their legacies in projects to come.