Joshua Redman, Where Are We Review
Where Are We: Joshua Redman’s Jazz View of Modern America
It is the theme of our times to blur lines, and in the world of jazz’s increasingly blurry outlines, few musicians exemplify this stylistic fluidity as successfully as saxophonist Joshua Redman. With his newest offering, Where Are We, Redman embarks on an auditory journey that leaps across musical genres. This vivid sonic depiction captures the elegance of jazz as influenced by contemporary America. Released under the esteemed Blue Note Records, the album is a landmark experience, filled with exceptional musicianship and ensemble chemistry.
Redman’s ensemble, featuring Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, gives life to a comforting and daring experience. Their rendition of “Streets Of Philadelphia” is a prime example, enriching Bruce Springsteen’s original with an ensemble cast that knows when to be intimate and when to venture into the full language of jazz. Redman’s sax lines dance around traditional be-bop structures, constantly teetering on the edge of transformation, demonstrating his unique improvisational skill at storytelling.
One of the most impactful aspects of Where Are We lies in its narrative ambition. Opening with “After Minneapolis,” Redman pairs his lyrics with folk legend Woodie Guthrie. This poignant amalgamation of jazz and folk captures the common beauties and similarities between America’s iconic music forms. Likewise, “Chicago Blues” is a searing commentary that delves into the emotions of blues and its emotional tensions that have lifted our hearts for decades, offering a profound and mesmerizing experience through voice and instruments.
In the track “Manhattan,” guitarist Peter Bernstein showcases his elegant guitar tones, effortlessly complementing Redman’s saxophone. Their mutual musical understanding is evident as they engage in an intricate dialogue of phrases. The ensemble’s relaxed swing sets the stage for two captivating solos, first by Bernstein and then by Redman. Blade and Sanders establish a rhythmic pulse that breathes life into the composition, while Parks’ thoughtful piano accompaniment enriches the texture. Collectively, the ensemble delivers a performance that wonderfully harkens back to the traditions of straight-ahead jazz.
“My Heart In San Francisco” unfolds as a captivating musical journey, beginning with Gabriell Cavassa’s a Cappella intro that highlights the unique timbre of her voice. When the ensemble joins, they execute a brisk up-tempo interlude characterized by a descending motif that ends with a cadential figure that transitions smoothly into a relaxed, slow-tempo swing, with Redman’s saxophone leading the way, as if guiding us from Manhattan to the iconic city by the bay. The interplay between Cavassa’s warm, expressive vocals and Redman’s robust saxophone fills is remarkable. In the final run-through of the form, Cavassa creatively reinterprets the melody, singing an ascending arc leading to an expressive climax. The rhythm section follows suit, digging deep into the swing feel. Cavassa and Redman lean into jazz blues vocabulary, bringing the song to a relaxed finish reminiscent of 1950s San Francisco jazz.
Often, in jazz, the story lies as much in being able to hear all the notes as it does in the space surrounding them. Credit must be given to the mixing and mastering team, who have captured the nuanced performances in pristine quality. Every instrument feels like a voice, contributing to an expansive musical narrative. Special guest appearances are Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Peter Bernstein on guitar, and Joel Ross on vibraphone. Each adds a layer of richness, ensuring Where Are We is always fresh for the ears.
The album has much to admire, from its modern jazz vocals to the seamless integration of folk elements and the evocative echoes of 1950s jazz. Throughout, Redman and his ensemble aren’t afraid to take calculated risks, enriching the listening experience. The album is a vivid example of the inherent flexibility of jazz and its uncanny ability to encapsulate the multi-faceted dimensions of human experience.
In Where Are We, Joshua Redman and his ensemble have crafted a musical voyage that straddles the fine line between reverence for the past and a brave stride into the unknown. It is a beautiful, complex sonic journey through the multiplicity of the sounds of American music. This musical odyssey explores the contours of contemporary America through the lens of jazz, folk, pop, and blues. Released under the prestigious Blue Note Records, Where Are We engages the intellect and the soul. That’s the short of it!
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Where Are We
September 15, 2023
Blue Note Records