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Joe Lovano & Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Flying Colors

Jim Santella By

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Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba makes an excellent match for Joe Lovano's "don't pigeon-hole me" style. From mainstream to Third Stream to avant-garde, the saxophonist continues to do it his way successfully. Rubalcaba's eclectic piano technique includes classical elements, straight-ahead jazz phrases, percussive Latin-influenced grooves, and special statements, such as plucking the piano's strings. Together, they make a thrilling pair. As Lovano states in the liner notes, "The music just poured out of us as though we were one."

Combining their own compositions with standards from Benny Golson, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian, Scott LaFaro and Irving Berlin in one session has insured a broad spectrum from which the duo improvises. Lovano employs the tenor saxophone for most of the album, and stretches out on soprano sax, alto clarinet, and percussion as well. Three numbers find Lovano at the drum kit; two of those employ his array of gongs. Not merely content with coloring the compositions with percussion, Lovano prefers to move from one instrument to the next during a piece, creating timbral changes to suit the desired musical theme. "Mr. Hyde" is one such improvised piece; in several movements, the duo moves the literary character through his scientist persona, to the raging madman, and back. To do this, they begin with alto clarinet and piano, forming smooth phrases with a consonant harmony. Then, with Lovano moving to the drum kit, Rubalcaba plucks the piano's strings to signal a violent change, followed through with thundering drum beats. Eventually, the pianist sits out as Lovano performs with a set of gongs and the tenor sax simultaneously, one instrument for each hand. The gong set is a wide array that allows Lovano to create counterpoint for his full-toned tenor.

From the familiar standards, recognizable themes such as "Hot House" are stated obviously, then coupled with dissonance and dense lower-register rumblings on the piano. Keeping the familiar bop melodies in the picture, the duo twists and turns with a palette of various designs. The title track describes this session rather well, but alternate titles could just as well have been chosen; both "Spontaneous Colors" and "I Love Music" describe what is happening on this session. Recommended.


Title: Flying Colors | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: Kedar Entertainment Group


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