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Joshua Redman at the Town Hall

Saxophonist’s masterful orchestral gig highlights Blue Note Jazz Festival

At Avatar Studios in New York City, Dan Coleman conducts the strings for Joshua Redman’s "Walking Shadows," September 2012
Brian Blade, Larry Grenadier, Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau (from left) during the sessions for Redman’s "Walking Shadows"; Avatar Studios, NYC, September 2012
Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade, Town Hall, NYC, June 2013
Joshua Redman performs with the Knights, Town Hall, NYC, June 2013
Joshua Redman (with Brad Mehldau on piano), Town Hall, NYC, June 2013

At first glance, the songs on saxophonist Joshua Redman’s new album, Walking Shadows (Nonesuch), appear as far-flung in time and space as the stars who composed them: J.S. Bach, Billy Strayhorn, John Mayer, Wayne Shorter, Blonde Redhead, Hoagy Carmichael, Brad Mehldau, the Beatles. Charting an unlikely constellation, Walking Shadows is an earnest search for new possibilities in balladry. Featuring longtime fellow travelers Mehldau (who doubles as pianist and producer), Larry Grenadier (bass), Brian Blade (drums) and the Knights, a young and forward-thinking chamber orchestra from New York, Redman’s album prefers searching to arrival.

On the record, there is an often-bleary quality to these ballads; they’re high-flown and far-off, mostly floating by at less than 80 beats per minute. Those who listen to Walking Shadows expecting the hard-hitting Redman of Momentum or Moodswing may well experience that aesthetic sedation familiar to stargazers: There’s beauty here, but it’s distant, flat and still. Last Tuesday, June 4, in conjunction with the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Redman and co. performed material from the album live at the Town Hall in Midtown Manhattan. Even with expectations set on high, the results were startling.

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