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With four decidedly different trios, Joe Lovano pushes the mainstream jazz envelope along its meandering course. The tenor saxophonist’s brusque tone stands apart as distinctively as his passion for molding the art form. This is a blue-collar effort from a creative, dues-paying, veteran artist.
Consider the nonstandard combinations the leader employs here. Lovano joins Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner for four pieces. He teams with Billy Drewes and Joey Baron for three. Three more tracks feature Mark Dresser and Dave Douglas, while half the album features Lovano with Cameron Brown and Idris Muhammad. In all, the artists engage in trio interplay with each member “speaking his own mind.” Lovano encourages the others without dominating. Open trumpet, lyrical harmonica, melody-driven bass and other partners share in the album’s creation.
On “Blue Mist,” a rainbow of percussion textures surround one solitary soprano saxophone voice before the trio eventually moves into “Off and Runnin’,” with two conversing saxophones. As with Lovano’s first Flights Of Fancy project, artist interaction is the key ingredient. When working with harmonica and piano, the saxophonist seems more at ease with the mainstream. When creating alongside Douglas’ trumpet or Drewes’ woodwinds, he’s stretching the envelope. In all situations, Lovano tends to share the microphone in creative interplay that seems determined not to simply recreate the past. Soundscapes, timbre combinations, unexpected turns, and variety mark the saxophonist’s adventures. On “206,” he’s at the drum set while trumpet and bass weave melodies.
Consisting, for the most part, of forward-looking avant-garde jazz, Lovano’s latest album belongs on this year’s “ten best” list. Directions are changing. It’s up to the “movers and shakers” heard hear to continue moving jazz in new, creative directions. In order to survive, jazz must grow.