Joe Lovano's entire recording career has been in the company of jazz greats since his debut with the Paul Motian Quintet in 1985. Lovano's hard bop days seem like a distant memory since his association with ECM began. Garden of Expression is the saxophonist's second project with his Trio Tapestry of pianist Marilyn Crispell, and drummer Carmen Castaldi. Lovano has two other co-leader outings on the label, collaborations with Marcin Wasilewski's trio on Arctic Riff (2020) and Enrico Rava on Roma (2019).
Crispell has spent much of her career working with avant-garde and free jazz artists such as Anthony Braxton, Tim Berne, Gerry Hemingway, Evan Parker, and Irene Schweizer, to name just a few. She has a twenty-year history with ECM, including two releases with Gary Peacock and her solo album Vignettes (2008). Castaldi is lightly recorded, with a rock credit dating to 1969 and previous work with Lovano in the leader's 2002 one-shot Street Orchestra.
Lovano begins on tenor with "Chapel Song," an ethereal narrative which finds the detached melodies of the sax and piano floating around each other and trading solos. Like many of the Lovano-penned compositions on Garden of Expression, the piece is fragile. More improvisational is "The Sacred Chant"; the work is episodic, but Castaldi and Crispell rarely rise above a whisper in their distinctive contributions. The title track evokes a mysterious chorus of moods after an elegant start. Lovano's pace becomes brusque and less defined compared to Crispell's attentive piano and Castaldi's enthusiastic drumming. "Zen Like" is the last of eight tracks, but the title speaks to much of this atmospheric album.
Lovano is an understated musician, and Garden of Expression plays along those lines. A long-time band mate of Motian, he reflects the drummer's ability to alter the temperament of a piece with almost the unperceived nuance of brushwork. Lovano and Crispell nurture each of these compositions, patiently developing and refining as they go along. It is not a surprising album, but there is much to be said for its consistently high writing and performance quality.
Chapel Song; Night Creatures; West of the Moon; garden of Expression; Treasured Moments; Sacred
Chant; Dream On That; Zen Like.
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