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Live Reviews

Joe Lovano's Flights of Fancy

By Published: December 1, 2001

The first set opened with Lovano on tenor, Baron on drums and Cameron Brown on bass playing "Flights of Fancy" (title track of the recent CD). It's one of the more immediately recognizable melodies and rhythmically interesting tunes on the recording with a sort of funk backbeat. Baron and Brown alternated between serving as a rhythm section and as functioning as equal voices involved in a collective improvisation process. The trio was joined by Billy Drewes on soprano and Mark Dresser on bass for the Lovano composition "Off and Running." This is a distinctly (Atlantic-era) Ornette-like composition which served as an effective vehicle for Drewes bittersweet and sometimes acrid soprano sound, somewhat reminiscent of Steve Lacy and Baron's Ed Blackwell like drum rolls. Drewes has impressive credentials having playing with artists such as Herbie Hancock, Randy Brecker, and Tom Harrel. Yet he is not very well known even to most jazz aficionados. Drewes alternated between clarinet and soprano. He also doubled as a percussionist, sitting on the stage floor playing a range of nifty percussive devices. Douglas and Werner joined them on the third number and the group would continue to play in various configurations throughout the first set. Highlights of the set included a pretty ballad, Bougainvillea, penned by Judi Silvano (Joe's wife). The final number, a reprise of "Flights of Fancy" with the entire septet, was just awesome. Drewes, Douglas and Lovano proved to be a formidable front line and this loose-jointed high energy rendition was incredibly exciting. In general, the first set was enjoyable and had many great moments. However, it did have a few dull patches and incoherent stretches where the musicians seemed to be a little out of synch.

The second set was just superb from the opening moments onwards. The group seemed to be much more cohesive and the communication was at a higher level. The set opened up with Lovano, Baron, and Werner playing Wayne Shorter's Infant Eyes. This is a beautiful ballad and for the most part they performed a relatively straight-ahead version that was just stunning. The group played as a septet for most of the second set with Drewes often playing percussion. Other highlights include a rather lengthy performance of Blackwell's Message—a tribute to the great drummer (Ed Blackwell) that first appeared on Tenor Legacy and the closing tune Cymbalism (from the first Trio Fascination recording) with Lovano on alto clarinet. I've had the pleasure of seeing Lovano perform on several occasions and his playing is always at a very high level. He will rarely dazzle you with stunning displays of virtuosity, although he's certainly capable. He is a first-rate improviser with a rich appreciation of different jazz idioms and an understanding of how to rework musical ideas in a way that sound spontaneous and fresh. The dual bass action of Dresser and Brown provided an energetic rhythmic foundation throughout the second and additionally engaged in some compelling musical dialogue. The bass was noticeably absent in the first set. For my money, Joey Baron was the star of this performance. He's an exceptionally fine, incredibly versatile and musical drummer. He can swing fiercely and play with impeccable taste. He also has a little bit of Han Bennink's theatrical flair and an absurd sense of humor. Baron will make a dramatic statement, calling attention to himself, at a seemingly inopportune time. For example, he will suddenly play a wildly loud drum roll behind a soloist. This will typically last for only for a few seconds, whereas Bennink will do his best to subvert the soloist. Baron is also a master of unusual accents, employs a wide range of percussive implements, and will play every inch of his drum kit. He was in brilliant form on this occasion. All in all, this was an evening of inspiring music played by a superb ensemble of creative improvising musicians.

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