Friday, May 1, 2009

Just Another Joe

Joe Lovano is just another Joe, if the other Joes are Joes like Henderson or Pass. In January of 2008 I was lucky enough to see Lovano in the Orpheum Theater in Sioux Falls, hosted by the SF Jazz and Blues Society. You can find a short review here, from when my Jazz Notes were still appearing on the South Dakota Politics website.

I was thinking about Lovano the last couple of days, after I saw a note that he has a new album coming out, Folk Art. I gather the new work breaks some new ground, and I thought I would keep my readers up to date on what ground has been covered so far (at least as far as I know it).

What I have sampled of Lovano's discography suggests awesome strength along three dimensions of jazz. The early works under his own name are mostly in the page four range: avant garde or free jazz. But it's the kind of page four jazz that keeps its feet firmly planted on planet bop. A good comparison would be with Jackie McLean's magnificient experiment in the new thing, Let Freedom Ring. I have acquired three of Lovano's recordings, all done in the first two years of the 90's: Landmarks, Sounds of Joy, and From the Soul. The latter is probably the best and indeed, some consider it to be Lovano's best album. But they are all very fine works of jazz artistry.

Landmarks is richly inventive with a very fresh and shiny sound. Even when it is only Lovano's horn, Marc Johnson's bass, and Bill Stewart's drums, it sounds very full. John Abercrombie's gives the album a slightly fusionesque tint, and Kenny Werner's viscous piano playing pulls the album further in the direction of avant garde.

Sounds of Joy
, recorded a few months later, is a very different kettle of fish. The feel of the album is explained by the title of one cut: 'This One's for Lacy.' Reduced to a trio (Anthony Cox b, Ed Blackwell d) Lovano's early 90's sound certainly does resonate with anyone has heard the siren call of Steve Lacy's soprano. But the difference is also instructive. Lovano is nowhere near as abstract as Lacy. Lacy not only abstracts from musical themes, he drastically restricts the emotional range from which he constructs his abstractions (see The Holy La). Joe Lovano always paints with a full pallet of passions, even if he doing modern art.

From the Soul is simply superb. It contains one of the most compelling interpretations of 'Body and Soul' I have ever heard. But on the next number you are back in the part of the museum with the Jackson Pollocks and giant plastic spoons.

A second dimension of jazz that Lovano explores is what I am calling now, for lack of a better term, fusionesque. Most jazz fusion seems to me to be rock music pretending to be jazz (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Fusionesque jazz is hard bop adopting the moods and textures of fusion. Lovano's work with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell is a good example of this. See my previous post on Motian, and listen to the Misterioso clip. That is fusionesque.

Finally, Lovano can do straight ahead twentyfour karot hard bop like nobody's business. Joyous Encounter, with Hank Jones on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Paul Motian on drums, is everything the title promises. The quartet's working of Trane's 'Crescent' is not to be missed. Not quite so compelling, but still well worth investing in, is Kids: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. A duet with Hank Jones, it will brighten up any Saturday morning.

Lovano is the real thing. When his next album comes out, buy it. Meanwhile, here are some samples to whet your appetite:
Joe Lovano/Crescent/Joyous Encounter
Joe Lovano/This One's For Lacy/Sounds of Joy
Joe Lovano/From the Soul/Body and Soul

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