Joshua Redman has been one of jazz’s most revered saxophonists since the release of his self-titled debut in 1993. The son of the free jazz sax player Dewey Redman, he has performed with all-time legends (Chick Correa, Herbie Hancock) and iconic peers (Brian Blade, Christian McBride). Over the course of his career, he has released over twenty records and his most recent, last year’s where are we, represents his ever-evolving sound. It is Redman’s first release on the iconic Blue Note label and his first album-length collaboration with a vocalist: the rising New Orleans singer Gabrielle Cavassa. It’s also a concept album, with a geographic theme and various twists on compositions by John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk.

When Redman and Cavassa recently graced the NPR offices for a stunning Tiny Desk performance, they were backed by a trio of rising jazz giants: pianist Paul Cornish, bassist Philip Norris, and drummer Nazir Ebo, who hails from Philly. They began with “Chicago Blues,” one of the most entrancing tracks off of where are we. It starts with a familiar yet totally unexpected sound: the melody of the Sufjan Stevens indie anthem “Chicago,” played by Redman with aching melancholy. Then Cavassa starts singing in her exquisitely singular voice, stretching out words and toggling tones with jaw-dropping power. The track is inspired by “Goin to Chicago Blues,” a composition by one of jazz’s most important early composers, Count Basie. Ebo’s pocket propels it all, pushing the group forward with his smooth syncopated grooves. 

Cornish continues the set with a poignant piano solo to start off “Streets of Philadelphia,” a reimagining of the Bruce Springsteen classic. Few would expect a jazz interpretation of “The Boss,” yet the surprising choice makes for another miraculous moment of musicianship. Cavassa sings the original lyrics, but does so with such passion and hurt that it becomes something entrancing and entirely new. While the first two songs draw heavily from the musical past, Redman concludes with an urgent original composition inspired by the painful present-day. He began the composition “After Minneapolis” just six days after George Floyd’s murder and began to add words over a year later. The ten-minute live version is devastating and deeply soulful, taking a tragedy almost too terrible for words and reflecting on it through music. 

Joshua Redman will tour throughout the summer, heading to Norway, Tokyo, Seoul, and elsewhere; Cavassa will join him for two performances in Ohio and Quebec. Ebo, a longtime fixture on the local jazz scene, recently performed with his own group at the Fusion Festival, presented by The Chronicles at Starbolt in Fishtown. Head to WRTI for more on Ebo, including incredible live performances from his quartet.

Joshua Redman: Tiny Desk Concert