Normally when you hear the words "three tenors," you think of opera singers. In this case, three tenorsin addition to a soprano and a few other instrumentsrefers to the saxophone, which is perhaps the coolest voice in jazz. Saxophone Summit brings together the voices of Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman, a true Gathering of Spirits.
All three play tenor sax on a few tracks, but Liebman plays the soprano sax on others. Saxophone "battles" have traditionally inspired musicians to play their best. But this gathering is a multi-faceted musical equation that's greater than the sum of its parts. The album recalls the uninhibited, free playing that characterized the early music of all three saxophonists, who were significantly influenced by John Coltrane.
Saxophone Summit opens with "Alexander the Great," dedicated to legendary tenor saxophonist Joe Alexander, who recorded with Tadd Dameron and played with Woody Herman, Count Basie, Sonny Stitt and John Coltrane. Penned by Lovano, "Alexander the Great" is a rollicking good time that covers a lot of saxophone turf. The saxophone trio takes turns on lead, but also join in harmony for a rousing closing sequence.
Pianist Phil Markowitz contributes "The 12th Man," an easy-going, haunting piece presented with a 7/4 rhythm with separating interludes. While the saxmen are the focus of this collection, it's the deft piano playing of Markowitz, combined with slick drum work by Billy Hart and compelling acoustic bass by Cecil McBee, that makes this score special.
Liebman provided the arrangement for John Coltrane's "India," a tribute to world music that was adapted into jazz before it became fashionable to do so. On this track, Brecker adds to his tenor the kaval, a wood flute from Bulgaria; Liebman plays soprano and an Indian flute; Lovano plays tenor and an African backwood flute. The trio is clearly out front on this one, playing traditional instruments in a truly improvisational jazz format while bringing in the supplementary instruments for that world feel. The supporting musicians, particularly Markowitz, also add their own personal touches.
Gathering of Spirits also includes a Coltrane ballad, "Peace on Earth"; "Tricycle," a Liebman composition that gives each member of the rhythm section a free, a cappella solo; and the title song, "Gathering of Spirits," penned by Brecker.
It's a rare thing for formidable jazz musicians to play with their peers. But when they do come togethersuch as Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton, or George Duke and Stanley Clarkethe result is often magical, and always impressive.
Track Listing: Alexander the Great, The 12th Man, India, Peace on Earth, Tricycle, A Gathering of Spirits
Personnel: Michael Brecker, tenor sax, kaval (wood flute from Bulgaria); Dave Liebman, tenor sax, soprano sax, Indian flute; Joe Lovano, tenor sax, alto clarinet, tarogato (Hungarian instrument), African blackwood flute; Phil Markowitz, piano; Cevil McBee, bass; Billy Hart, drums