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"Flights Of Fancy" being a literary term for the human capacity for "imagination," Lovano's new trio CD is aptly named.
Following up on his 1998 trio CD with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones, "Trio Fascination, Edition 1," Lovano imaginatively transforms even the expectations for a reed-led trio by recording four trio configurations over the compressed time of two days. Lovano switches to drums from sax on a few of the tracks to change the texture from melodic lines to percussive colors.
In many ways, Flights Of Fancy: Trio Fascination, Edition 2 is a more personal statement than "Edition 1." And Edition 2 hints that even with a widely diverse discography under his belt, Joe Lovano's imagination contains continuously forming and re-forming ideas that will create future music statements, avoiding past repetitions and continuing expansion.
In short, Flights Of Fancy consists of four trios of significance to Lovano: his working trio with Cameron Brown and Idris Muhammad; one with friends from his Berklee days, Billy Drewes and Joey Baron; one with his former student, Dave Douglas, and Mark Dresser; and the only trio containing a piano consisting of Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner (also a Lovano friend from Berklee).
Each trio assumes distinct approaches for exploring different themes.
Let's start then with the Thielemans/Werner trio. Everyone by now is familiar with Toots' melodic genius on an instrument that basically sings. However, in a twist of imagination, the Lovano/Thielemans/Werner trio engages in free improvisation that feeds off the others' spur-of-the-moment thoughts. Thus, in their abandonment of melodic constraint, it's no exaggeration to state that we hear all three at their very best in the next best thing to a live recording. A recent interview with Lovano reveals the expected: that Lovano is particularly inspired by Thielemans' playing. The inspiration is evident. And Lovano is obviously inspired by his wife's talent, both in singing and in songwriting. Having incorporated her horn-like soprano lines on albums like Rush Hour, he has incorporated her beautifully melodic tune, "Bougainvillea," into the harmonica/sax/piano trio with luminous results. "On April" indeed becomes another tune on the changes of "I'll Remember April" in the jazz tradition of turning standards inside out. Solely Werner anchors the tune with obvious bass lines and stated modulations as the wind instruments (hesitating here to call the harmonica a "reed" although it is) fly fancifully. Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes" receives the same treatment as an introductory unison "reed" exposition, allowing in this case for Werner to stretch out in flowing accompaniment. And "On Giant Steps" adopts the same free treatment as "On April," the melody subordinate to the imagination, in a style that reminds me of Lee Konitz' improvisations over a theme.
Interestingly, Lovano splices "On Giant Steps"and two other tuneswith two trios' contrasting versions of the same tune, doubling their lengths. Lovano's regular trio completes the splicing of "On Giant Steps" as Brown works out a second interpretation in conjunction with Lovano's and as Muhammad adds richness, splashes and drama. The same trio bookends the CD with equally enthralling versions of Lovano's theme, "Flights Of Fancy."
The trio with Billy Drewes and Joey Baron provides an opportunity to create alternative sonorities that aren't evident in the other triosin particular, Lovano's use of bass clarinet and percussion. On "Windom Street," which recalls the Boston address where Baron and Drewes jammed with Lovano as students, the trio converses. Snatches of communication between Drewes' soprano sax and Lovano's bass clarinet stop and start while Baron reveals the undercurrents. Assuming yet a different approach on "Blue Mist," Lovano brightens Baron's brushwork with his own percussive shimmers and accents on gongs, bells and hand drums before Drewes comes in with a short theme. Yet another sublime trio, he Lovano/Drwes/Baron group is notable for Baron's empathy and mood creation through changes in dynamics, meter and attitude.
Then there's the Lovano/Douglas/Dresser trio, for which Lovano, this time on tenor sax, changes timbre on "Amsterdam" to accommodate the clarity of Douglas' tone. Again, this trio attains a distinctiveness, like the others', that would have maintained interest throughout an entire CD. Their work on "Amber" is a complete departure from "Amsterdam" as Dresser bows in counterpoint, more as a cello than as a bass, and as Lovano and Douglas show elasticity in elongating phrases without meter. Indeed, "Amber" seems to be a composition consisting of improvisation on discrete and connected phrases. "206" refers to Lovano's and wife Judi Silvano's loft which was destroyed by fire. Douglas and Lovano recollect their first collaborations there in a story told mostly by Lovano's ruminative work on percussion.
Flights Of Fancy: Trio Fascination, Edition 2 extends the growing Lovano discography without repeating previous work. By carefully choosing the two other musicians to complete his four trios, Lovano has combined contrast with consistency in an album that's not completely fanciful. Flights Of Fancy exhibits judicious reason even as it releases the musicians' imaginations.
Track Listing: Flights Of Fancy, On April (I'll Remember April), Amsterdam, Blue Mist, Off And Runnin', Infant Eyes, 206, Bougainvillea, Windom Street, Hot Shot, Aisha, Amber, On Giant Steps, Flights Of Fancy (Reprise)
Personnel: Joe Lovano, saxophones, clarinets, percussion, drums, gongs; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Billy Drewes, soprano saxphone, alto flute, percussion; Toots Thielemans, harmonica; Kenny Werner, piano; Cameron Brown, Mark Dresser, bass; Idris Muhammad, Joey Baron, drums