Jazz CD Reviews

Joshua Redman – Walking Shadows – Nonesuch

Redman with strings in all the right places…

Published on September 21, 2013

Joshua Redman – Walking Shadows – Nonesuch 532288-2, 57:33 *****:

(Joshua Redman – tenor sax on all selections, except soprano sax on #7; Brad Mehldau – piano, vibes (#3, 10), tubular bells (#10); Larry Grenadier – bass; Brian Blade – drums; Timothy Cobb – bass; Pamela Sklar – flute (#5, 10); Robert Carlisle – French horn (#5, 7, 10); String Orchestra – #1, 2, 5, 7, 10, 12)

Romanticism rules on Joshua Redman’s new CD, Walking Shadows. Jazz musicians- especially horn players- relish the opportunity to be backed by a lush string section. From Charlie Parker all the way through Roy Hargrove, some of the most memorable sessions for a jazz artist have been found on their “with strings” albums. For most musicians this opportunity has been found at least mid-career, after they have established their bona fides. (Certainly with the cost of assembling a orchestra with full arrangements, this is quite understandable).

With the case of Redman, a bonus is found in that Joshua is backed by an all-star rhythm section of established stars: Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, and Brian Blade. A CD alone with these three gentlemen would be enough to make jazz fans happy. What makes Walking Shadows a major event are the six orchestral tracks conducted by Dan Coleman, with string arrangements by Coleman, Mehldau, and Patrick Zimmerli. These tracks range from standards of Jerome Kern, Billy Strayhorn, and, Wayne Shorter, as well as a track each from Redman and Mehldau. The non-orchestral selections are wide ranging and run the gamut from John Mayer, Lennon and McCartney, Bach, and Hoagy Carmichael. Something for a varied music palette…

For me, the orchestral tracks are the icing on the cake. They are simply stunning in their romanticism, with the strings not cloying nor saccharine, which many times are the downfall of a jazz with strings issue. In those unfortunate cases, the strings either overwhelm the jazz soloist or are so distracting in their “sweetness” that they defeat the jazz swing feel and take away the jazz soul, and render the songs lifeless. Not so here, as the presentation is first class with a polished sheen similar to that found on Charlie Haden’s Quartet West issues from the 1980s and ’90s.

Redman is fully upfront in the mix as is Mehldau. The strings accentuate the mood rather than dominate. On “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” Redman’s tenor is simply gorgeous, fully emotive with a sensual flair. “Lush Life” gets a similar treatment leaving the listener jealous that they were not in the studio to soak up the exquisite vibe. This is music to savor like a fine after dinner brandy…

Bach’s “Adagio” is brooding and contemplative as Joshua and Grenadier intertwine behind Blade’s sympathetic backing. The addition of a French horn and flute on “Easy Living” brings an atmospheric, moody feel while Blade and Grenadier sit out. It is easy to imagine this track on a movie soundtrack. Kudos go out for the string arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” “Let It Be” is done gently as Redman’s soprano sax is both tender and soulful.

If there is any justice, music programmers will have a field day featuring many of the tracks on Walking Shadows throughout the rest of 2013. I see a Grammy nomination down the road. This is a CD to relish.

TrackList: The Folks Who Live on the Hill, Lush Life, Stop This Train, Adagio, Easy Living, Doll is Mine, Infant Eyes, Let It Be, Final Hour, Last Glimpse of Gotham, Stardust, Let Me Down Easy

—Jeff Krow

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