Album reviews

Joshua Redman, ‘where are we’, feat. Gabriella Cavassa

Joshua Redman, where are we featuring Gabriella Cavassa
(Blue Note 00602455253002. Album review by Mike Collins)

Joshua Redman’s latest release chalks up a couple of firsts: His first release on the Blue Note label, and his first under his own name working with a singer. For close followers of Redman who soaked up the recent reunion of the Moodswing quartet that featured Mehldau, McBride and Blade, or the 2019 release with his longstanding quartet of Aaron Goldberg, Reuben Rogers and Gregory Hutchinson, this Blue Note debut may divide opinion.

Where are we is animated by the simple idea of linking each track to a named place; Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago and so on. Familiar songs or standards are the starting points, with sometimes more than one woven into carefully constructed arrangements. References range from Woody Guthrie, through Count Basie, Bruce Springsteen, John Coltrane to Sufjan Stevens.

With a core quartet of Redman, Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Brian Blade behind the kit supporting Gabrielle Cavassa on vocals, the sound is always tight, like a quietly graceful thoroughbred, and the varying character of the pieces perfectly rendered. Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia with Kurt Rosenwinkel guesting has a relaxed funky pulse to it; Chicago is a spacious cover of the Sufijan Stevens song, chiming vibes from guest Joel Ross and Count Basie references smuggled in; My Heart in San Francisco segues from a Monk theme Worry Later, into I left my Heart in SF. Another polished groove introduces Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, this take graced by a tasteful solo from Nicholas Payton. A teasing hint of Coltrane’s Alabama gives way to swooning rendition of Stars Fell on Alabama, Redman weaving tasty lines around Cavassa’s vocal, before the quartet return to make good on the intro and spool out a meditative version of the Coltrane classic on the most free-wheeling episode of the album.

Gabrielle Cavassa navigates the varying styles effortlessly, able to hint at a Holliday-like fragility at times, and sultry soul at others. The accompaniment and arranging are unfailingly classy, this is a focused, polished and reined-in set. Redman admirers looking for exploration and edginess won’t find it here. There’s no mistaking the quality though in a mellow, engaging set.

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Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bristol, who runs the jazzyblogman site . Twitter: @jazzyblogman

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