By Tom Spargo for Jazzwise
The tenor sax giant is joined by the young vocalist for an evening of electrifying improvisation and musical storytelling.
Joshua Redman is undoubtably a heavyweight of the international jazz scene, an improvisational wizard of the highest order. It is only natural that he was named as a headliner for this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival following the recent release of his 2023 album Where Are We, his first on the Blue Note label. Performing live at the Barbican, Redman was joined by a young and exciting rhythm section comprised of Paul Cornish on piano, Philip Norris on double bass, and Nazir Ebo on drums. The band was completed by Gabrielle Cavassa, a singer who is rapidly making a name for herself for exquisite phrasing and rich tone.
In Where We Are, each song represents a different city in the US, a narrative structure which Redman sought to recreate in this live context. The gig opened with ‘Chicago Blues’, an exceptionally melodic mash up between Count Basie’s ‘Chicago’ with piano motifs from Sufyan Stephens’ album Illinoise. This was followed by a surprisingly lyrical cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Philadelphia’, and then by Gabriel Kahane’s ‘Baltimore and Jimmy Webb’s ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’.
The highlight of the evening was a reinterpretation of the jazz standard ‘Stars Fell On Alabama’ which segued straight into John Coltrane’s ‘Alabama’. The contrast was as emotively poignant and as it was politically charged. The first part, a quaint song of two lovers in the antebellum South played as an intimate duet between tenor and vocals.
The second part, a fiery, anguished eulogy for the four young black girls that were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. Redman moved masterfully between carefree bebop into the spiritual depths of Coltrane, impressing with his emotional and technical range. Cornish also shone here, playing the role of McCoy Tyner and bringing the gig to an emotional climax.
The band finished with two tunes not featured on the album, a cover of the standard ‘A Foggy Day’ – a humorous dig at London’s weather – and an encore of The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’. Throughout, the band were technically exceptional, and the sharpness of Redman’s storytelling was powerfully amplified by Cavassa’s tasteful vocals.