Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi: Garden of Expression

Ian Patterson By

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Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi: Garden of Expression
Joe Lovano has long been hailed as a standard bearer of mainstream tenor saxophone—a natural heir to Sonny Rollins. Always open to exploring new fields, be it from small to large ensembles, or from a Charlie Parker homage to honoring opera legend Enrico Caruso, Lovano's robust sound has been his signature. Trio Tapestry (ECM, 2019), however, represented nothing less than a reinvention for the Cleveland-born saxophonist, then making his ECM debut as leader. Lovano, in the company of Marilyn Crispell and Carmen Castaldi, embraced a minimalism which championed the unfolding of subtly improvised melodic dialogues over virtuosity. Garden of Expression sees the trio further deepen its bare essentials aesthetic, with space once more a key element in shaping the music.

On "Chapel Song," Crispell deftly embellishes the spaces in Lovano's pretty, melodic lines, with Castaldi's touch on cymbal and skin so light as to be almost subliminal. It sets an elusively mellow tone—melancholic, yet gently dynamic— which prevails, practically undisturbed, for the album's duration. Lovano purrs tenderly on "Night Creatures," though it is Crispell's simmering counterpoint, swelling in surges of emotion, which lifts this gentlest of ballads into the realm of the sublime. Saxophonist and pianist dovetail poetically on the equally beguiling "West of the Moon," with Lovano's caressing melody at the heart of their poignant interplay.

There is a little of Charles Lloyd's questing lyricism in Lovano's playing on the elegant title track, where Crispell's improvisation veers between ruminative tone-poem and free-jazz exploration, punctuated by Castaldi's brushes and Lovano's ethereal-sounding gongs. After the wintry impressionism and chiselled economy of "Treasured Moments," Lovano's softly lowing tenor and Crispell's trilling piano on "Sacred Chant" convey the soft warmth of a morning sunrise. Saxophonist and pianist trade back and forth on "Dream on That," a teasingly brief, Thelonious Monk-esque puzzle, featuring a more animated—though essentially percussive—response from Castaldi.

The appropriately titled "Zen Like" closes the disc on a meditative note, with Lovano switching to soprano saxophone. Bookended by Lovano's gongs, which bestow a monastic reverie, the trio flirts with a fragmentary melody which flickers like the dying flame of a candle. However, it is the heavy silences between the notes which carry the greatest weight on this chamber-like slice of minimalism.

After a quarter century with Blue Note, Lovano's bare-bones approach to trio interplay for ECM may take a little getting used to, but the economy of notes only accentuates the lyricism, and the space serves to magnify the effect of the percussive accents, on these finely worked pieces. Just two albums in, and already Lovano, Crispell and Castaldi seem to be onto something special.

Track Listing

Chapel Song; Night Creatures; West of the Moon; garden of Expression; Treasured Moments; Sacred Chant; Dream On That; Zen Like.


Joe Lovano: saxophone; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Carmen Castaldi: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Joe Lovano: soprano saxophone, taragota, gongs.

Album information

Title: Garden of Expression | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: ECM Records

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