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Joshua Redman at Stanford University

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Joshua Redman
Jazz Artist, Saxophonist Joshua Redman - Photo credit: Z Smith

On September 22nd, 2023, my brother and I witnessed Joshua Redman’s Quintet perform a thoroughly entertaining evening of music at Bing Concert Hall on the Stanford University campus. The band is expanded and enhanced by vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa.  Cavassa brings a singular approach to vocals that is compelling and surprising. Whitney Balliet in the New Yorker called jazz “the sound of surprise” and this group epitomizes that statement.

On the musical journey we had the distinct pleasure of hearing Aaron Parks on piano, Jon Sanders on the bass and the marvelous Brian Blade on drums. There were two occasions where Redman and Cavassa laid out and let the trio go. And go they did, with Parks flying over the keys and Sanders singing along with his bass.  Always supporting the other musicians in subtle ways, Blade was the heart and soul of the band.

As Redman said at the beginning of the show the songs all involved American places from Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets Of Philadelphia” to Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”. Many were familiar popular songs with arrangements that showcased the strengths of the whole band. Cavassa used her intriguing sound, Sanders plucked admirably, while Parks rolled out those big chords. On top Redman took the tenor from single note lines to complex flurries, going to the free jazz edge and then returning to the melody.     

The group hit a high point with “Stars Fell On Alabama” which segued into “Alabama” written by John Coltrane, as an homage to the four girls who were killed in the bombing of the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. Cavassa delivered the lyrics to “Stars Fell On Alabama” in a direct manner, then the band switched gears into the haunting Coltrane tune. The reverence that the band displayed left a lasting impression on the crowd, as if to say never forget our sordid past.

The Redman original “After Minneapolis (face toward mo[u]rning)” resonated in the brain and the body after the quartet finished playing. It seems Redman didn’t want us to forget the recent past and the murder of George Floyd.  Minneapolis came first in the concert and Alabama was placed at the end, as if to say nothing has significantly changed.

Of particular interest to my brother and I was the band’s take on “Autumn In New York”. Our Dad played Mel Tormé’s recorded version so many times when we were growing up that we memorized the lyrics. It was nostalgic to hear their arrangement and Cavassa’s interpretation of the lyrics were beautiful, filled with pathos and longing.

Particularly impressive was “Silicon Valley Blues” featuring outstanding solos by the quartet.  Sanders’ bass solo resonated long after the concert was over; he sang the notes he was playing as the great Slam Stewart did many years before. It was refreshing to hear Sanders remind the audience of Stewart and his influence on the jazz bass.

Another song associated with the Golden State, The Eagles’ “Hotel California”, sparked some recognition in the audience.

I was never a fan of the Eagles’ version of the tune but Redman and company made some significant changes to the arrangement resulting in a moving experience. Cavassa’s interpretation of the lyrics enhanced the impact of the song.  The relaxed groove of the band provided a floating and undulating carpet for Cavassa’s vocals.

Redman has assembled a righteous group of musicians to play some unusual interpretations of popular tunes all relating to locations in the United States. He has done this to support  his latest offering on the Blue Note label entitled “where are we”. After the show it seemed only natural to purchase the CD and show my continued support of the music.

Brooks Geiken is a retired Spanish teacher, with a lifelong interest in music, specifically Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and Black American music. His wife thinks he should write a book titled "The White Dude's Guide to Afro-Cuban & Jazz Music". Brooks lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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