Lovano-Harper Quintet Shines Brightly

Paul Ryan By

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Joe Lovano Quintet featuring Winard Harper
Berney Theater/Asper Jazz Series
Winnipeg, Manitoba
April 9th, 2006

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 9th, Joe Lovano and Winard Harper, two of the most acclaimed jazz musicians on their respective instruments, joined forces with three of Winnipeg's finest to create some excellent music. You might say it was a "joyous encounter.

Lovano, who has played in Winnipeg on a couple of occasions (once with Woody Herman's band in the late seventies and then about a decade later with John Scofield's ensemble), showed a sold out Berney Theatre why he is one of the premier musicians on today's scene. He led a quintet that featured Harper on drums, Steve Kirby on bass, local legend Ron Paley on piano, and Larry Roy on guitar.

The first set opened with "Have You Met Miss Jones. Lovano played a number of thematic variations on tenor saxophone before launching his solo. Roy was up next and he delivered a typical rapidly articulated affair that generated considerable excitement. Paley's solo began in an abstract manner as he skittered around the keys; Harper, who clearly dug the pianist's artistry, picked up and commented on some of his phrases. Following the bass spot, there was some trading between Joe and Winard; a brief latin- tinged tag ending ensued.

After Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica, the quintet played a remarkable rendition of "Chelsea Bridge, a tune often associated with tenor sax legend Ben Webster. Kirby plucked a beautifully full-toned bass solo, while Lovano's head statement and concisely structured solo were nearly perfect. The icing on the cake was Lovano's magnificent cadenza.

In a number of instances, Lovano could be seen springing up and down on his toes while he played, at times seemingly coming out of his shoes. He exuded a sense of passion about and warmth for the music that was most palpable.

The up-tempo "Bird's Eye View, which appears on Lovano's most recent quartet album with Hank Jones, was the final tune of the opening set. After stating the theme, Lovano deferred to Paley who, once again, was locked in with Harper—the two fed off of each other's ideas throughout the afternoon.

The old warhorse "Bye Bye Blackbird kicked off set two. Paley's spot began with just bass in accompaniment for the first half, before a smiling Harper came in swinging on the ride cymbal. Following a version of "I'm All For You, from his 2004 album of the same name, Lovano and his cohorts went into "Blackwell's Message, a tribute to the late drummer, Ed Blackwell. This tune was the most "free of the concert and probably the best, in this reviewer's opinion. Harper began the piece alone and gradually built his solo, before Lovano joined in and commented upon the drummer's ideas. And Harper explored many ideas that afternoon; indeed, his virtuosity was on full display. Kirby's bass solo, his best of the concert, was chock full of Eastern elements and Harper's final spot incorporated shakers and bells.

"Fifth House, John Coltrane's take on the "What is this Thing Called Love changes, was the closing number and the ensemble really burned. The crowd rose immediately following the tune's completion, and gave the quintet a standing ovation.

To witness two of the finest jazz musicians perform at the peak of their powers is something that can not be adequately described by words, but can only be felt and experienced. I was just lucky to be one of the witnesses.


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