Joe Lovano with Paul Motian, George Mraz and Mulgrew Miller
Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
New York City
There's nothing like accompanying a musician to see a show. As well as the constant barrage of, "Hey, that's one of Bird's licks! and "You think that pianist likes Monk, they provide great company. Musicians are hip. Musicians are cool. Musicians understand the stock market. And even if they don't, can you really fault them?
Well, last night I was lucky enough to go with a musician and some other friends to see the Joe Lovano Quartet at the new Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York. What a treat.
The quartet was composed of Lovano (sax), Mulgrew Miller on piano (filling in for Hank Jones), George Mrax on bass, and Paul Motian on drums. All four masters of their respective instruments as well as of the group mind.
The quartet, as anybody who is reading this review knows, just recently released Joyous Encounter, the follow up to the ballad-filled I'm All For You. But the larger occasion this night was the Lincoln Center weeklong tribute to Thad Jones.
Lovano, Mraz and Motian opened the show as a trio, immediately diving into the aforementioned Thad Jones' "The Summary. For whatever reason, Lovano's tone initially sounded thinner than usual. The trio, to this reviewer's ears, sounded a bit sparse, a word rarely associated with Joe Lovano. While Mraz's solo was beautifully melodic, the band did not hit full stride until, midway through the song, an unassuming Miller meandered on stage, sat down at the grand piano, and created magic with his fingers. He took a way-extended solo that was never repetitive, and his comping spurred Lovano to bring back that trademark fat tone. My musician accomplice said it most poignantly, remarking, "That pianist is a monster.
Next came the Lovano original "Joyous Encounter. Lovano's solo bordered on the amusical, using over-blowing to create that trademark throaty sound that John Coltrane made so famous. Miller and Motian aided Lovano in pushing the boundaries, each doing so in his own carefully constructed fashion, Mraz all the while keeping perfect time. In what became a constant theme throughout the night, Motian repeatedly dragged Lovano to the point where he was teetering on the edge of free playing, only to hear Miller pull the reins and drag the soloist back towards the melody. After a few of these interesting exchanges, Miller was given his turn, taking Lovano's momentum and morphing the song into an expression of pure joy. Lovano could be heard vocally approving of what Miller's piano had to say, and the crowd, left breathless, showed its appreciation with one of the bigger rounds of applause of the night. Mraz had a tough act to follow, but he came through swimmingly, sliding up and down the strings in a marvelous display of virtuosity while always keeping the melody of the song in mind. Lovano's closing solo summed up the entire tune in a dense minute or so, bringing the song to a rousing close.
After introducing the rest of the quartet, Lovano counted off to That Jones' groovy "Don't Ever Leave Me. Lovano's solo, in contrast to the heavily melodic theme, constituted his freest playing of the night. Miller, as usual, brought the proceedings back to earth with his throwback style, left hand perfectly in tune with the right. Motian was given his first and only solo break on this tune, and his solo kept with his eccentric playing style, throwing time out the window and focusing on painting a picture with his kit. He then began trading licks with Lovano, both intensely in sync. Lovano restated the theme, bringing the tune to a close.
The band immediately delved into the blues vamp of "Six and Four, first recorded by all 3 Jones brothers. Lovano played around Miller's simple lick for a while before stating the theme, a straight 12-bar blues. He then gave way to Miller's cerebral solo, recalling Monk at times and losing the blues form entirely, at others bending notes perfectly. Lovano created his own version of Joementum with his high-powered solo, proving that he is indeed as adept at the extreme highs of his instrument as at the extreme lows.
Another fast-paced Thad Jones song concluded the proceedings in rousing fashion. The band extended the ending, almost engaging in a full-out jam, but it was not to be. Lovano thanked the crowd, and the band left the stage to thunderous (or as thunderous as you're going to get at a jazz club) applause, hugging one another on the way out. This band sets the bar high and continues to impress.
Visit Joe Lovano on the web.