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REVIEW: A Jazz Journey – Joshua Redman Group at The Dakota

Saxophonist Joshua Redman.

The story is often recounted how the leading saxophonist Joshua Redman, son of free-jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman and dancer Renee Shedroff, seemed once to have been on quite a different life path. Redman won a full scholarship to Harvard, graduated there with highest honors, and was accepted to the Yale Law School. However, before going to law school, Redman decided to take a year off…

During that year off, and hanging out with friends in Brooklyn, Redman became part of the New York jazz scene – and, along the way, also won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. (To give a sense of the achievement:  Chris Potter, another contemporary saxophone star, came in third that year.) Law school plans were put aside.

Redman’s debut album with Warner Brothers came out in 1993.  A couple of dozen or so albums (and 10 Grammy nominations) later, Redman brought out his first vocal album last year, Where We Are (Blue Note, 2023). The album’s songs, barring the last (“Where Are You?”), all contain the name of an American city, state, or region.  Redman describes the work as an exploration of the divergent American experience, focusing on the way that many Americans are suffering and oppressed.

Almost all the songs at Tuesday’s show at The Dakota were from the new album.  The Group opened with the wonderful “Chicago Blues,” which Redman describes as a “mash-up” of Count Basie’s “Goin’ to Chicago” and Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago”.  In the concert, as on the album, singer Gabrielle Cavassa is a revelation, with a voice that is sultry, full of desire, yearning, and sadness.  She was especially effective on “Chicago Blues,” on the Group’s interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”, and on the classic “A Foggy Day (in London Town)”, the last presented in a fairly straight-ahead and playful way as the evening’s encore.

Playing underneath, around, and against Cavassa’s vocals, Redman’s tenor sax covered a range of emotions, from melancholy to hope, and from despair to joy.  In the most searing song of the set, “After Minneapolis (face toward mo[u]rning)” – Redman’s response to the murder of George Floyd – alongside the melody, there is a wailing, a call to arms, and a determination.  At the concert, Redman stated that the work was “mournful, yet hopeful”.

The band was predictably excellent.  Paul Cornish on piano varied with ease between the beautifully melodic and the productively discordant.  Nazir Ebo on drums and Philip Norris on the upright bass were always at the heart of the playing, alternatively driving the beat forward hard, or laying back, keeping a steady soft support.

For those who missed an inspired evening of music, one can get a sense of it (though without the excellent Dakota menu, of course) through the “Tiny Desk Concert” the Group did for NPR earlier this month, playing “Chicago Blues”, “Streets of Philadelphia”, and “After Minneapolis”.

Brian Bix