When ECM released Dewey Redman's The Struggle Continues in January 1982, he was busier than he had been in years. He'd spent three years recording and touring with Old and New Dreams (and a few more after). This date has Redman fronting a standard rhythm trio comprised of bassist Mark Helias, pianist Charles Eubanks, and drummer Ed Blackwell (a bandmate from the time they spent with Ornette Coleman through to Old and New Dreams, and with other Coleman alumni Cherry and Charlie Haden). Redman was versatile, as comfortable playing inside as outside, and here he does a bit of both, straying in and out of free and hard bop mode. It is one of the saxophonists most consistent and "melodic" recordings, but that doesn't mean he's any less adventurous. On his five compositions and an excellent eight-plus-minute workout on Charlie Parker's "Dewey Square," Redman is at the top of his game as an improviser and as a bandleader. The session is tight, with quick changes and rhythmic twists and turns throughout. He revisits his beautiful, easy loper "Joie de Vivre" with something approaching Thelonious Monk's sense of time and humor. Eubanks is particularly fine here, seemingly able to anticipate both Redman and the rhythm section in every comped bar; he fills the spaces just enough. His chord voicings on this tune in particular are an utter delight, as Redman plays one of the most relaxed and yet idea rich solos of his recorded career.
In addition, Redman freely allows the influence of his time with Coleman come to the front of his own compositions. "Thren," the set's opener, has a melody unmistakably Colemanesque. The knotty little melody played after the first line is juxtaposed with contrapuntal lower, middle register chords by Eubanks, before he takes off and uses Coleman's own phrasing in his solo but with his own sense of harmonic invention. Helias and Blackwell are phenomenal together. Blackwell, with that big dancing ride cymbal, breaks the beat after eight measures before double timing it and coming out on the money every time. "Love Is" starts with a honk and a quartet swell on a minor chord before Redman takes it into a literally lyrical solo unaccompanied for a chorus or two before the band enters, and what emerges is a gorgeous, mid-tempo ballad that moves between waltz and 4/4 before moving a step or two to the outside to become a solo vehicle for everyone in the band. It returns as a ballad, a tad slower than before. Redman's playing is so soulful and rich, he's got Eubanks singing along with his chords. "Turn over Baby," the big, deep, funky, Texas tenor blues, Redman style. Helias really pops those strings and gets in the bucket. "Combinations" is the hard, fast, and free blower on the set, but at only five-minutes-and-twenty-four-seconds it almost feels too short. Redman and Eubanks charge one another, chasing each other to the top before Blackwell solos, and what emerges is intense free bop for another couple of minutes before it closes. The Parker tune is a beautiful sum up of what has come before, both in terms of The Struggle Continues, and in terms of Redman's own development. As he works on the melody and off the changes in the tune, you can hear Redman's entire musical evolution -- as well as Blackwell's and Eubanks. This is one of Dewey Redman's strongest but least celebrated dates. Perhaps those who dug hard into brilliant albums like Tarik, Look for the Black Star, and Ear of the Behearer weren't ready to hear music that stayed so close to the bop tradition. But it's only close for Redman; further elements of this sound appear on every record Redman ever made as a leader; it was in his musical DNA and he never tried to prove otherwise. This is as fine as any of those albums, with an ensemble that understood his considerable strengths and played directly to them. Inspired and inspiring, The Struggle Continues is one of the gems of the ECM catalog in the '80s and a shining star in jazz, period.