Joe Lovano: On This Day... At the Vanguard (2003)
From the very first bar, this disc swings. Saxophonist Joe Lovano brought everything but the proverbial kitchen sink to this live performance at the Village Vanguard. The horn-laden disc is resplendent with an energy level that must have left the band exhausted at the conclusion of the set. The breakneck speed of the opener, “At The Vanguard,” is reminiscent of a jam session of the utmost intensity. “Focus” has a relaxed pace, mellow and smooth, but still swings. Lovano stretches out, albeit smoothly, while bassist Dennis Irwin and Lewis Nash, one of the tightest drummers out there, provide the melody that Lovano plays around.
As if conjuring up the spirit of John Coltrane, “After The Rain” begins with a short, thought-provoking solo by Lovano and a few thunderous bombs by Nash before the band joins in to create a powerful melody. They stop on a dime during several bars to remind the audience the sheer power of how a horn section can create an epic in a mere seven-plus minutes. This piece commands attention because it remains so reminiscent of 'Trane's cerebral command of his instrument, something shared by Lovano. Throughout the track, Nash drops massive hits on the skins that are simply breathtaking and timely.
The most romantic cut on the disc, “Laura,” begins with Lovano crying out on saxophone while Hicks employs the piano keys to share in the dialogue. Ries interjects with a soulful trumpet interlude accompanied by the horn section in a manner that suggests classic Charlie Parker. In true Lovano form, the disc picks up the pace again with “On This Day,” which begins with a Nash drum solo.
The solo essentially has the audience in a quandary because it isn't clear which direction the song will take, fast or slow. However, the horn section moves in to play around Nash's beats to create an abstract flow. After the band's blasting meandering, Hicks accents his piano to provide some direction. Over the course of fifteen minutes, every band member has the opportunity to stretch out.
On This Day... At The Vanguard was undoubtedly one whale of an evening for the audience and the band. The crowd assuredly experienced a range of emotions from frenetic-paced songs such as “At The Vanguard” and “Good Bait” to soulful, airy ballads such as “After The Rain” and “My Little Brown Book.” And the members of the band were undoubtedly exhausted at the conclusion of the set, having demonstrated their ability to play at sprint-like speeds, yet also being able to catch their breath now and then on the ballads. It goes without saying that on this day, this band was smokin'.
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This review first appeared in All About Jazz:Los Angeles
Track Listing: At The Vanguard/ Focus/ After The Rain/ Good Bait/ Laura/ On This Day/ My Little Brown Book.
Personnel: Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Ralph Lalamatenor saxophone; Steve Slagle- alto saxophone; Scott Robinson- baritone saxophone; Barry Ries- trumpet; Larry Farrell- trombone; John Hicks- piano; Dennis Irwin- bass; Lewis Nash- drums