New York, NY
September 25, 2003
Joe Lovano took the stage at the Village Vanguard on Thursday night and provided the packed house with an evening of inspired collaborative interplay that mirrored his career. He is a strong soloist, constantly searching for inspiration and finding it in both what he plays and the company he keeps. The words he spoke on stage Thursday evening reflected the notes he played. His new release is entitled On this day... at the Vanguard and that is what this week-long stand is; a glimpse into where he's at... at that moment. He introduced the second song of the evening, his feature, by saying "It's kinda my theme song". Light-hearted and amicable, and true. The song was a Tadd Dameron original entitled "Whatever Possessed Me?" Mr. Lovano is clearly very happy searching for new combinations, new idioms, and new styles to fuel his artistic fire, without taking himself too seriously.
Following this beautiful arrangement, showcasing Mr. Lovano as a soloist with his beautiful tone and inspired ideas, Mr. Lovano offered this assessment of their stand at the storied Vanguard, "We've been having some fun, exploring some different kinds of music." Again, a sweet synopsis of his musical career. At this point, the band found their wings and took off with a free-for-all style burner, full of syncopations and punctuations which never lost it's tightly arranged center. The band played crisply and cleanly all night, as did Lewis Nash, an exemplary drummer who generally shines in all settings, and did not disappoint tonight. The band played solos with Mr. Nash supporting them, the band played lines tightly arranged lines while Mr. Nash explored, and they played melodies together. Mr. Lovano clearly responds first and foremost to the drums (as a graduate student he came to my school and gave a tremendous masterclass focused primarily on insisting that the drummer play the melody of a song). Constantly swaying, dancing, playing with and against Mr. Nash, he introduced the rhythm section (with the always solid Dennis Irwin on bass and the legendary John Hicks on piano) as "the real deal", which they were.
After a contemplative and mesmerizing "After the Rain", the Coltrane classic, it was time for no-holds barred fun with a final burner that changed gears several times, just to regain steam and momentum. Mr. Lovano invented background lines on the spot for the horns, at one point audibly urging Mr. Slagle "let's play that one again", and they did.
The nonet consists of Mr. Lovano plus Barry Ries, Steve Slagle, Ralph Lalama, Gary Smulyan, Larry Farrell, John Hicks, Dennis Irwin, and Lewis Nash. Mr. Slagle proved to be an especially fine so-conspirator with Mr. Lovano. He, like Mr. Lovano was well-schooled in the bebop tradition but concerned primarily with honing the band's sound and exploring the possibilities that a nonet offers. He turned in several fine solos but his participation in the ensemble was remarkable, giving and receiving cues through musical prompts as well as gestures.
Mr. Lovano has earned his place as one of the most respected musicians working today, whether as a leader and a sideman, and as one who will always find new ways to inspire himself and an audience without ever failing to entertain with his exceptional musicianship. This particular band is especially rewarding for being endlessly entertaining while still striving to find new venues of expression, and never failing to provide a strong backbeat.