Joshua Redman Group at Gates Concert Hall: Photos


“I think there’s a certain ambiguity in the title because the title should be a question, but I intentionally left the question mark off,” noted Redman in our pre-show interview.

“There is an ambiguity in the entire concept of the album. It’s an album of songs about places in the United States, which is not a revolutionary concept. It’s been done before and probably far better than I did.”

The show opened with a clever mash-up. Count Basie’s “Goin’ to Chicago” was done as a slower, regretful tune, not the more common angry blues tune, and paired with Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” Cavassa’s sultry voice perfectly matched Redman’s tenor sax and gave way to an evening of unparalleled musicality and synergy.

One of the standout moments of the concert was yet another mash-up of “Stars Fell on Alabama” and John Coltrane’s profoundly moving “Alabama.”

“John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’ was his meditation on the bombing of the 16th Baptist Church in 1963, which was a horrific, racist, terrorist act, but it was one that really galvanized and captivated the nation and a source of organizing. It was an impetus for a lot of action in the civil rights era,” explained Redman. “I wanted to juxtapose that with a very different one, the old, classic, American Songbook standard. American reality, but through the lens of the same state, Alabama.”

Joshua Redman Group | Event in Gettysburg

Redman channeled his inner Coltrane for 15 minutes using dark, edgy chords, while Cornish’s piano solo was captivating, displaying technical brilliance and deep emotional resonance. Finally, Redman brought it in for a gentle landing with help from Ebo’s mallets on the cymbals.

Another evening highlight was the performance of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” a song made famous by Glen Campbell and later by Isaac Hayes. The piece began with a hauntingly beautiful melody, with Cavassa adding her brilliant touch to the lyrics.

My only criticism of the show was the need for a more creative production. Redman and Cavassa were tightly wedged between the piano and drums, with the bassist behind them and monitors in front boxing them in. Gates Hall has a large stage with ample space for the performers to move about, but as was the case with Friday’s show, the band configuration would have been better suited for a small jazz club’s stage. The lighting was dim and a constant blend of orange and purple. Behind them was a giant empty screen begging for a back-projection of B-roll footage and archival photos representing the various areas of America the songs covered.

The only time Redman broke the travelogue theme was for the encore with Barry Manilow’s earworm from the 1970s, “Could It Be Magic.”

After the show, several musicians came out to sign CDs and chat with the grateful audience.

A luminary of contemporary jazz, Joshua Redman graced Gates Concert Hall last Friday with his stellar group featuring Paul Cornish (piano), Philip Norris (bass), Nazir Ebo (drums), and the outstanding vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa.

Joshua Redman Group featuring Gabrielle Cavassa - "Where are we" Tour -  Bring Me The News

The 100-minute sold-out performance relied heavily on songs from Redman’s 2023 Blue Note Records debut where are we. Yes, it’s all lowercase and without a question mark—all intentional.

After releasing his highly-lauded “where are we” album last year, saxophonist Joshua Redman built a new band to play live the place-specific tunes on the album, which he made with A-list jazz stars.

Wednesday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, he led three younger gents onstage, all four players in suits; plus a slim singer in a past-the-knee cocktail dress and how-does-she-walk-in-THOSE? red stilettos, a loose up-do piled taller than anyone else onstage.

The five then expanded the album’s songlist and played everything with a harder-edged attack. While the slow tempos in the early going wove a languid charm, uptempo numbers later found a thrilling force.

The songs on “where are we” and onstage Wednesday cite place-names and atmospheres; grafting tunes together for dynamic or titular closeness, or contrast. They opened, for example, with “Chicago Blues,” a seamless sequence of vintage and new blues numbers. Far at the other end of the intensity spectrum came a late 16-minute suite built of the serene, romantic “Stars Fell on Alabama” and the anguished howl of lament “Alabama.”

Singer Gabrielle Cavassa, a “long drink of water,” as the woman behind me noted, added a physically reserved but vocally expressive element to the small-band dynamic Redman has long favored. However, she energetically revved things at the end along with the players. Redman played tenor sax throughout, unleashing his inner John Coltrane in “Alabama” but otherwise mostly flowing smooth, with tight trio support by pianist Paul Cornish, bassist Philip Norris and drummer Nazir Ebo.

Cavassa and Redman stood up front, retreating at times to stools on opposite stage aprons when the trio carried things. The two often played as partners. In the swinging/rocking “Chicago Blues,” Cavassa showed off a confident blues feel after a somewhat tentative start, and ended her vocal with wordless passages that perfectly set up Redman’s tenor coda.

At times, they convincingly reached for a place among classic sax-and-singer tag teams: Lester Young with Billie Holiday, John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman, Stan Getz with (recently deceased) Astrid Gilberto. They used that seamless hand-off technique often in the 95-minute break-less set; just as the band listened and responded so closely to each other that the songs all had a strong flow.

In the dramatic “Streets of Philadelphia,” Cornish started alone at a deliberate tempo that surged to a fiery rush as Redman changed his reed and drums, bass and vocal flowed into the melody. Cavassa handed off to Redman with that wordless croon thing, then as Redman played a low, slow passage, Ebo matched both his tone and cadence with Xerox-close tom riffs; quietly breathtaking. Redman turned, mid-solo, to smile back at him.

A fan called, “So GOOD!” But Redman jokingly complained this broke his concentration: “Only insults, please!” he asked. Fat chance, man.

A hesitation beat and slowed tempo introduced “Hotel California,” Cavassa at her most wistful before Redman took the melody, tossed it to the trio and retreated. After Cornish blues-bopped to a peak, Redman followed that mood into minor-key meditations before Cavassa joined in a skat sequence through a climactic tempo shift.

“By The Time I Get to Phoenix” rode a warm tenor and piano throb into a relaxed vocal after the first verse, staying mellow through a slow coda. “Autumn in New York” brought big vintage spice, Redman’s bluesy intro cueing the trio after his first clear melodic statement and Cavassa singing it bigger than Billie Holiday famously did, with Redman commenting closely. Here Norris took his first solo of the night, a brilliant blaze.

Another antique, “Rhode Island Is Famous For You,” began to change things up, with faster tempos, quicker transitions between short solos and a playful spirit. Cavassa earned applause here for her spunky singing and Norris again shone as the band blew it wide open.

“Stars Fell on Alabama” into “Alabama” offered the most startling contrast all night, the, emotional peak of the show. Cavassa caressed the romantic lyrics of “Stars” before Redman’s bold sax cries screamed Coltrane’s lament for the four young girls killed in a racist church bombing in the same state. He rocked his body, crouched, intense, passionate, as Cornish echoed Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner’s pounding chord attack, Ebo went all Elvin Jones and Norris grooved right in the pocket.

“Where Are You?” let us down from the ceiling into a mellow mood, its melody a cousin to “Stars” in Cavassa’s soft vocal. Off they went, returning as awed standing-ovation applause still filled the Hall. Conferring briefly, they decided on “Baltimore” as encore. Redman honked hard on the intro to cue an all-in spirit, everybody on top of their game and very together.

Joshua Redman Group At Gates Concert Hall

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