Esteemed American saxophonist Joshua Redman has harnessed significant inspiration during pandemic times and conceived his first album with vocals. Teaming up with New Orleans-based vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa, one of the brightest new discoveries in vocal jazz, and bringing together a trusty new rhythm section of Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Brian Blade on drums, Redman creates an engrossing conceptual album that takes us on a journey across cities and regions of the US. On selected tracks, four jazz heavyweights join the core ensemble as guests to pay homage to their respective cities.
Joshua Redman’s Blue Note debut is also the first time the saxophonist has recorded under his own name with a singer. Each song alludes to a place in the US, and the repertoire ranges from warhorse songbook covers to Bruce Springsteen and John Coltrane. Technical levels are high, stylistic references broad and moods are subtle and bittersweet — the album’s theme is both the joy of gathering and the angst suffered when people are unjustly separated.
The ride begins brilliantly with “After Minneapolis”, the sole Redman composition, which contains excerpts of Woody Guthrie’s famous folk song “This Land is Your Land”. The saxist starts unaccompanied, squeezing notes with dramatic expression before Park’s stealthy entrance. Then it’s Cavassa who injects warmth and vulnerability, having Sanders working in parallel. The hitherto composed atmosphere is shaken by rhythmic kicks followed by an irresistible harmonic flow over which Redman dishes out a scene-stealing solo packed with energy.
It opens with a snippet of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” transformed into a brief and commanding showcase for unaccompanied tenor sax. As Redman’s pure high tones fade over Aaron Parks’ sparse piano support, vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa enters, assured, rounded and equally in control. “After Minneapolis (face toward mo[u]rning)” seethes and slow-burns from despair at political impotence to the first stirrings of hope.
The following couple of tracks feature amazing guests. The firm rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” is elevated by an unassisted preface by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who shows off his flexible fingers. Cavassa sings over Blade’s impeccable beat, with Parks and Sanders joining a minute later to generate a temperate propulsive funky groove. “Chicago Blues” is an expert assemblage of Count Basie’s smooth swing classic “Goin’ to Chicago Blues” and several motifs drawn from “Chicago” by the indie pop multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens. With an emotional Moby-like piano pattern at the base, it highlights the always-to-the-point mallet work of vibraphonist Joel Ross.
The remaining two pieces with guests are “Do You Know What Means to Miss New Orleans”, a cool vehicle showcasing an expressive Nicholas Payton trumpet statement as well as Redman’s distinguished phraseology; and “Manhattan”, a wonderful tune that shines brightly with the presence of guitarist Peter Bernstein. He and the bandleader alternate sections of the main melody with gusto.
Heading Northeast, “That’s New England” keeps its airily sweet balladic tone even while instilling excerpts from 20th-century modernist composer Charles Ives’ “Three Places in New England”. The Southeastern state of Alabama is a required stop as a saxophone intro leads to the standard “Stars Fell on Alabama”, delivered as a sax/vocals duet, and then ends in John Coltrane’s “Alabama”, a soul-stirring escape that explores a bit more off the limits, into abstract modalism.
Where Are We is another compelling offering from a marvelous saxophonist who found the perfect singer to fly with.
Acclaimed saxophonist Joshua Redman makes his Blue Note debut with where are we, his first-ever vocal project which features vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Brian Blade plus special guests Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Peter Bernstein on guitar, and Joel Ross on vibraphone. At its core the album is both a celebration and critique of America – each song is about a specific geographical location in the United States – but it is also, to varying degrees, a ballads album, a standards album, an album of romantic longing, an album of social reflection, an album of melodic invention, and an album of improvisational adventure.
Redman also adds new lyrics as well as bits of Thelonious Monk’s “San Francisco Holiday (Worry Later)” to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Tempos and moods change, but for the most part sax and voice harmonise and intertwine sweetly over Joe Sanders’ steady walking bass. “That’s New England”, which includes excerpts from Charles Ives and James Sinclair’s “Three Places In New England”, develops in a similar vein.
The bulk of the set is made up of knowingly reworked covers. A jaunty “Stars Fell on Alabama” is sandwiched between a blistering version of Coltrane’s “Alabama”, inspired by racist violence. Vibraphonist Joel Ross enhances the shaded emotions of “Chicago Blues”, its meaning transformed by a female lead voice. And the bite of Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” is intensified by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s technical flair.
Redman’s band also focus on the mood of a place. New Orleans is captured by trumpeter Nicholas Payton jousting with Redman’s sax and Manhattan by the urbane swing of Peter Bernstein’s guitar. On “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, vocals and sax mingle and soar over Brian Blade’s perfect drum support.
1. After Minneapolis (face toward mo[u]rning) (7:44)
2. Streets Of Philadelphia (5:21)
3. Chicago Blues (4:54)
4. Baltimore (5:38)
5. By The Time I Get To Phoenix (4:41)
6. Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? (5:06)
7. Manhattan (3:56)
8. My Heart In San Francisco (Holiday) (3:14)
9. That’s New England (4:48)
10. Alabama (intro) (0:17)
11. Stars Fell On Alabama (1:56)
12. Alabama (7:55)
13. Where Are You? (5:10)
Joshua Redman saxophone
Gabrielle Cavassa vocals
Aaron Parks piano
Joe Sanders bass
Brian Blade drums
Nicholas Payton trumpet
Peter Bernstein guitar
Joel Ross vibraphone