An exceptional album in its own right, Joyous Encounter is perhaps best appreciated when heard in light of I'm All for You, the collection of ballads that earned saxophonist Joe Lovano and his all-star quartetpianist Hank Jones, drummer Paul Motian, and bassist George Mrazsuch widespread, enthusiastic praise when it appeared last year. The four musicians have reconvened under Lovano's leadership with the deliberate aim of working the magic that served them so well last time on more up-tempo numbers and fewer standards.
Linked by a holdover from the last go, the capricious and poetic rendition of "Autumn in New York," it would be slightly mistaken to think of this disc as a simple follow-on, a Hollywood sequel engendered solely to capitalize on the success of the original. While commercial ambitions no doubt played a partpersonally, I have trouble imagining that parent label EMI's promptings for a repeat session stemmed purely from noble artistic motivesthere is among the group a maturation, or even a melding, that is manifest from a year of touring together and developing musical ideas on and off-stage. Joyous Encounter is therefore not an opportunistic Part Two; it's the technical and intellectual refinement of an acclaimed blueprint.
The opener is a good indication of what has changed and what has remained the same. Motian is sparing as usual, beginning with brushwork like ruffling bedsheets, but he gradually urges the group toward a more optimistic trot. His role here contrasts his subdued presence on I'm All for You, on which he was often minimalist to the point of self-effacement. Jones' solo demonstrates not only how expert this octogenarian pianist can belisten to the way he throws phrases in the air, scooping them up on their descentbut also how the group has honed its timing to something like a sixth sense.
"Bird's Eye View" is a jittery bop chart modeled on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," and the mix of individual and collective is especially strong here, with each musician turning in a highly personal performance that simultaneously complements the others'. The title track, another Lovano chart, might be seen as rather less joyous an encounter given Jones' absence. The featured trio version apparently worked better than the full quartet recording. Lovano sketches the melody with thick, jagged strokes and then proceeds to fill in the outline with scribbles, dots, and swipes. Without the piano's chords, it leaves ample room for Motian and Mraz to come forward and fill in the interstices, which they do well.
The disc finishes with Coltrane's "Crescent," a eulogy of sorts for the pianist's brother, the late Elvin Jones. It has an odd feel to it at the outset: Lovano wailing and plaintive, Jones anguished, Mraz slightly bewildered, Motian ricocheting among all three. They settle into a bittersweet groove, only to close out by recalling the ominous head. Like the musicians themselves, the approach spans generations, and it makes the familiar new.
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Personnel: Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone, curved soprano saxophone (tr.6, 10); Hank Jones: piano;
George Mraz: bass; Paul Motian: drums