By Frank Alkyer | Published September 2023
From the opening strains of Where Are We, Joshua Redman’s first recording on Blue Note, the tenor saxophonist sends a statement that’s really more of a confessional about America, one full of hopes and dreams, but also reality and confusion and love and loss. The album begins with the powerful ballad “After Minneapolis (face toward mo(u)ring),” an original that covers those very real feelings with depth and poignancy following the murder of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The tune begins with Redman playing the melody to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” before making his horn cry for help. Gabrielle Cavassa, a young singer with a deep, rich, fragile voice, beautifully serves the lyrics penned by Redman: “Knee on neck, near naked night, colors cleave/Fear forms hate in faithless fight, love that leaves.” Instrumentalists aren’t usually the best lyricists, but Redman has a gift here. The album progresses through a truly far-reaching program of songs about places and the people in them. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Streets Of Philadelphia” becomes a slow-jam blues, again featuring Cavassa’s seductive vocals and some beautiful guitar work by Kurt Rosenwinkel. The album delivers terrific mashups, including Redman and company combining Count Basie’s “Goin’ To Chicago” with Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago.” Joel Ross guests on the cut with his super cool, lyrical work on vibraphone. There is so much to like on this recording, from a delightfully tender rendition of Jimmy Webb’s classic “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” to the standard “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” to the mashup of “The Stars Fell On Alabama” into Coltrane’s “Alabama.” Cavassa is a star in the making. Other tasty appearances by guitarist Peter Bernstein and trumpeter Nicholas Payton highlight Redman’s working band of Aaron Parks on piano, Brian Blade on drums and Joe Sanders on bass. By the time the final notes fade on the chestnut “Where Are You?,” the album’s closing number, hearts have been broken, beaten, weathered and mended. Minds have been stretched and blown. Joshua Redman has delivered his finest recording to date. And that’s saying something.