Joshua Redman, where are we Review
Where We Are: A Questioning of American Dreams and Realities from Joshua Redman
by Constance Tucker
The intoxicating aroma of freshly pressed vinyl and the invigorating thrill of a new auditory journey! Greetings, dear readers, it’s Jazz Johnson here, your musical cartographer for the evening, guiding you through an album that promises a cartography of its own—a map charting the vast and varied terrains of the American musical landscape. Today, we venture into Joshua Redman’s Blue Note debut, where are we, an album that enlists the vocal prowess of Gabrielle Cavassa and a constellation of jazz luminaries to explore the American Dream and American Myth, among other labyrinthine themes.
Let’s begin by laying down the foundation: The thematic layout of where are we purports to be a musical sojourn across the United States, replete with a kaleidoscope of cities and landmarks that echo through the track names. The emotional geography shifts—oh, how it shifts!—from melancholy to hope, solitude to unity. An intricate tapestry, isn’t it? But does the album’s framework live up to its promises? Well, jazz cats and vinyl virtuosos, let’s spin this record.
Joshua Redman, a venerable saxophonist, has a long-standing penchant for rendering improvisational mastery, a true juggernaut in the jazz domain. And Gabrielle Cavassa? She’s a vocalist who can drench you in sultry warmth, a vocal tableau of contemporary jazz, blues, and pop. You’d think, at the onset, that blending these two dynamic forces would produce an alchemical reaction. On this, allow me to present my most genuine reservations.
The inclusion of Cavassa is at once both beguiling and bemusing. In tracks like “After Minneapolis,” her vocals, while technically proficient, seem somewhat disengaged from the gravity of the themes. For a song touching on George Floyd’s tragic death and larger social issues, her emotional palette seems a tad constrained. Redman, meanwhile, continues to soar on his solo, emphasizing what could have been a more poignant vocal delivery. It’s like a love affair where the chemistry is still in experimental stages; the blend of her voice and his saxophone is more like oil and water than a soul-stirring cocktail.
The instrumentalists—Brian Blade on drums, Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass, and special appearances from guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Peter Bernstein, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton —create a setting that’s respectful, inviting. However, their collective proficiency sometimes only serves to highlight Cavassa’s limited emotional reach, a dichotomy that leads to an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying auditory experience.
Let’s dwell on “Streets of Philadelphia,” a Springsteen classic. Redman and Rosenwinkel have this fascinating interplay; the sax and the guitar commingle like old friends sharing a secret, while Cavassa’s voice breezes through but doesn’t push any boundaries. She does jazz, she does blues, she does pop, but she seems hesitant to explore the emotional depths that could have enriched the song’s expressive terrain. It leaves the listener yearning for more—a melody teased but never fully embraced.
Another moment of unfulfilled promise lies in the mash-up, “My Heart In San Francisco (Holiday).” Here, the sonic landscape grows repetitive, a series of tracks that bleed into a monochrome, despite the vivid colors their names suggest. The melancholy, much like the wine in a dim-lit bar, flows too freely, lacking the contrast that could elevate the album from mere background music to a transformative musical journey.
Is where are we a bad album? Far from it. But the missing link between Cavassa’s vocal choices and Redman’s adventurous improvisation sets up a landscape where the valleys and mountains don’t quite meet. They seem to exist in parallel musical universes, each beautiful in its isolation but somewhat discordant when juxtaposed.
To sum it up, Redman remains a powerful beacon in the jazz realm, while Cavassa proves her vocal dexterity but misses the emotional mark. If this album were a recipe, all the right ingredients are present, but the final dish lacks that unique seasoning—that dash of improvisational daring—that could make it sublime. Perhaps the most pertinent takeaway here is that where are we doesn’t quite know where it wants to go. It serves more as a panoramic snapshot of diverging musical talents, a beautiful mirage that ultimately leaves you pondering: “where, indeed, are we?”