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REVIEW: Joshua Redman and Ola Kvernberg at Wigmore Hall

Applause for Joshua Redman and Ola Kvernberg
iPhone snap  by Sebastian Scotney

Joshua Redman and Ola Kvernberg
(Wigmore Hall, 11 September 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Joshua Redman has such persuasive instrumental mastery, combined with bucketloads of musicianship, concentration and charisma, it is hard to imagine a musical context in which he couldn’t thrive. So the question last night was not whether he could bring off the improbable feat of performing a 90-minute set in a saxophone-and-violin duet with Norwegian violinist Ola Kvernberg, but how they would actually make it work. There were people – just a handful of them – who decided to leave early looking slightly puzzled and grumpy. Presumably they either hadn’t quite taken on board what they were going to be listening to, or weren’t convinced by it. But the vast majority of us in the almost-completely-full hall not only stayed to the end, we responded to both performers with a rapturous ovation.

The origins of this project go back to 2006 when Redman was artist-in-residence at the Molde Jazz Festival, which takes place in Ola Kvernberg’s home town. That first encounter planted the germ of the idea, and when Kvernberg himself was artist-in-residence for the 2010 festival, he invited the saxophonist as guest – (part of that performance is HERE), and from there the idea of performing as a duo has evolved.

There is a video from last year of their performance at the Victoria/Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo (BELOW), and last night’s programme and format were very similar. The duo started and finished with the purest expression of what this duo can do which is unison or intertwining melody, starting with Coltrane’s Wise One and ending with the Rachmaninov Vocalise.

The irony about that is that the stretching out of a melody with only the two instruments to focus on, rather than with  the benefit and the undertow of harmony and rhythm, might be the least satisfying thing they did: others may feel differently, but I found it made time pass very slowly. Other moments worked far better, such as Kvernberg playing pizzicato on an amplified and either tuned-down or octave-pedalled violin to accompany Redman on a hard-swinging Miles Davis Dig/Sweet Georgia Brown with a quite phenomenal intensity build, or in a mellifluous Chega de Saudade/No More Blues. And Kvernberg’s loose bow which goes under the violin, always producing four part harmonies, delivered another highlight of a more meditative kind.

There were moments when Redman took extended unsupported solos, and that seemed to leave open the prospect that he must surely be tempted some day to do the ultimate act of ascetic scaling-down, follow in the footsteps of Michael Brecker and Branford Marsalis, and do a completely solo set.

They pulled it off last night; there was never a doubt that they could and would. And the Wigmore’s history and its friendly acoustic added to the sense of occasion.

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1 reply »

  1. Super performance and demonstration of musicianship and improvisation all sans rithm section…brava Maestro Redman and Mr Kvarnberg – – > when is the recording of the due coming out?

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